One Example of Why Philadelphia Needs to Get Out of the Land Ownership Business Friday, September 14, 2012
In today's Daily News, Natalie Pompilio tells the story of 1138-42 S. 20th St., a 1500 sqft lot that was originally acquired by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority in 1976. The lot has been vacant, so far as we can figure, since at least 1992. In the early 2000s, the City took the odd approach of lining the perimeter of the lot with highway barriers. The idea behind this may have been to prevent trespassing, but the four-foot high barriers actually encouraged it, providing cover for illegally dumped trash and debris. The lot filled up like a bowl over the years, with a decade's worth of junk.
With plans for a second OCF Coffee House location in the building next door to this horrifying, City-owned cesspool, owner Ori Feibush repeatedly approached the PRA (then RDA) over the course of a few years in an attempt to purchase the lots. Despite his requests in writing, over the phone, and by appearing in person, the PRA claims that Feibush only reached out for the first time in August. When, at that time, the PRA requested that he not clean up the parcel, stating that he would be trespassing and would present an insurance risk, Feibush went ahead with his plan "out of frustration." Forty tons of debris and $20,000 later, the community has a new public garden space to call its own.
During the build-out for this garden and since its completion, the PRA has threatened Feibush with legal action. Currently, the PRA is "actively reviewing its options at this time."
Looking at the before and after photos, does this make any sense whatsoever to any human in the city of Philadelphia? We get it that you're supposed to follow a process with this sort of thing, but what are you to do when the process is set up in such a backwards way that several years of requests through multiple channels somehow are never recognized or processed? Should Feibush return the lot to the way it was, full of trash, with a broken and dangerous sidewalk, blighting the neighborhood, all in the name of process? Or should the PRA perhaps take a long look at how its doing business and attempt to improve transparency and accessibility? The new Philly Land Works site may be a good first step, but how is that any less of a black box than what was going on previously?
What do people think? Was Feibush out of line? Or is the PRA just trying to do its best?
Full disclosure: Naked Philly is owned by OCF Realty, of which Ori Feibush is a principal.