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Philly property politics, savvy and the hero of "Lotgate"

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Philly property politics, savvy and the hero of "Lotgate"


(A telling story perhaps)



Ori Feibush



In August 2012, Feibush spent more than $20,000 of his own money to clean up a derelict city-owned lot abutting a coffee shop he was opening in Point Breeze. 40 tons of debris were removed and the lot was transformed into a landscaped area with planters, wooden benches, and a redone sidewalk. The following month, the Philadelphia Daily News reported on Feibush's efforts as well as the city government's opposition to his actions. The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority accused Feibush of trespassing: "Like any property owner, [the authority] does not permit unauthorized access to or alteration of its property." In correspondence with Feibush, the authority threatened to take legal action against him and demanded he immediately return the property to the condition in which he found it. Feibush said he had taken matters into his own hands out of frustration that repeated requests to buy or lease that parcel from the city went unanswered over a number of years.[5] Feibush said he took independent action only after a last ditch effort calling on the city to clean the roughly 30-year vacant lot failed to achieve results.[6][7]


The story of the dispute between Feibush and the city government, which came to be dubbed "lotgate,"[4][8] quickly went "viral,"[4] garnering national[6][9][10] and international media attention.[7] The city ultimately relented, allowing Feibush to lease the property and maintain it as a public space until the city sells it.[11]

In an editorial, The Philadelphia Inquirer said, "It’s clear that [Ori's] instincts were good in wanting to see an unsightly area spruced up. Indeed, how much better off would other city neighborhoods be if they were permeated by the same spirit? ... While one man's attempt to keep a vacant lot clean was unorthodox, it offers a reminder to City Hall officials that government needs to do a better job with the properties under its purview."[12] Commenting on the dispute, Philadelphia magazine wrote, "Feibush might be a hero, because he did something that needs to happen more often in Philadelphia: He saw a mess. And he cleaned up the mess. This being Philadelphia, of course he’s in trouble."[13]


> wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ori_Feibush

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  • 1 month later...
Ori Feibush Interview
by James Jennings Nov 10, 2014



Want to get a better look at developer Ori Feibush and his thoughts as he prepares to run for City Council? You should definitely check out this extensive interview from PlanPhilly, which delves into questions about potential conflicts of interest, his public back-and-forth with Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and his vision for the 2nd District.

[PlanPhilly, Photo: Philly.com]


He did not win the election, but got some good news later:


/ 2 /

Planners Give Go-Ahead To Ori Feibush's Stalled Project
by Megan Ritchie Jooste Apr 29, 2015,

Screen_20Shot_202015-04-29_20at_207.57.4 Photo via Plan Philly


Jared Brey of the Plan Philly team reports that the City Planning Commission finally granted Ori Feibush approval to replace a warehouse at 2010 Wharton Street with 22 row houses (redesigned from a previous incarnation that was not immediately granted approval). The current design includes parking spots. It's "worth noting," says Jon Geeting while sharing the news on the Greater Philadelphia Planners, Urbanists and Designers group page, "that the lack of parking in the original plan would have made those houses more affordable." Via Plan Philly: "The houses are each 38 feet tall, with pilot houses and roof decks. Each has a parking space in the rear, accessed by a shared driveway. Despite the addition of parking to the project, some nearby residents still oppose it." >>

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  • 1 month later...

A WORKAROUND - to get increased build heights for Mixed Used buildings


THIS is from Feibush's OCF website:


Whoa, That's a Tall Building on N. 2nd Street

Not that there's anything wrong with that
Mr. Fox
Stands out a little

We were making our way down N. 2nd Street in Northern Liberties the other day, and noticed a big new building on the 900 block. We've actually written about this property, 966 N. 2nd St., in the past, back in the fall of 2015. At that time, we told you that a long vacant building had just been torn down and that developers had approval to build a new building in its place. We were all kinds of pleased that this building had gotten demoed, it had been blighting the block for as long as we could recall and it also resembled Swamp Thing... In the past


(two photos - at the link)

Today, it's a wildly different world at this location. Developer Shimi Zaken, who has done multiple projects in Northern Liberties, is behind this one as well.

The building will have 13 residential units, a veterinary clinic on the first floor, and 8 underground parking spaces. It had to go to NLNA and zoning, but not for the reason you might expect.

Closer look

If you had to guess, you'd probably say that the building needed a variance for height. But you'd be totally wrong! By right, at that time, the developers could have built a building with exactly the same envelope with 9 apartments, 4 offices on the 2nd floor, and certain types of retail on the first floor. The developers got a variance to make the four office spaces into apartments, and they needed a special exception for the veterinary clinic. But they didn't need a variance for height.


You might be wondering how such a tall building could be allowed without a variance. The answer is simple and powerful- remapping.

This parcel, along with most of the North 2nd Street corridor, is zoned CMX-2.5. This district allows more density than CMX-2, and allows more height as well. For a CMX-2 property, you can build up to 38' in height. In CMX-2.5, you can go up to 55'. That's a major difference, pretty much enabling developers to go from three story buildings to five story buildings. This change in what's permitted makes mixed-use development much more attractive, financially, and should enrich the corridor over time.

Historically, the rest of the corridor had less favorable zoning, and the surrounding buildings reflect that reality. We have to think that as the years roll by, other developers will take advantage of this more favorable zoning designation and we'll see additional five story buildings rise on 2nd Street. This building may stick out dramatically today, but we don't think that'll be the case down the road.



OTHER Projects, same developer: shimi zaken

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NOT EVERYONE Sees Feibush as a Hero...

Some actively resist actively resist any government assistance for developers

on the unproven, but emotionally-provoking idea that gentrification pushes poor people out


(and they ignore the jobs, and other improvements to a neighborhood when once-poor neighborhoods change)


Philadelphia’s Vanishing Affordable Housing


- Mindy Isser : "a union organizer and lifelong Philadelphia resident : video :


Philadelphia's becoming a developer's paradise. But working-class residents aren't leaving without a fight.


The tension between long-term and new residents is no secret in Point Breeze. In 2011, the community organization Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze organized around a bill that would impose a one-year moratorium on construction of buildings, additions, or roof decks higher than two stories. The majority of houses in the neighborhood built before the big construction boom are two stories, and three-story homes (and roof decks) are a visual reminder of the new residents’ higher incomes and old residents’ increasing marginality in the neighborhood they’ve spent their lives in.

The bill didn’t pass: then-mayor Michael Nutter was concerned that it would stifle development, depress property values, and interfere with public investment in the neighborhood. High-end development continued apace: between 2006 and 2014, Point Breeze and its northern neighbor, Graduate Hospital, saw an increase of over three thousand new roof decks.


Ori Feibush / Kenyatta Johnson, 2nd District : source


In May 2015, developer Ori Feibush ran in the City Council race for the Second District against incumbent Kenyatta Johnson. Johnson grew up in the heart of Point Breeze and represented the “old” neighborhood, Feibush the “new.” Johnson won by an almost two-to-one margin; Feibush has continued “developing” the neighborhood.

Neighbors’ responses to Feibush’s development and brash attitude — who called then-city councilmember, now mayor, Jim Kenney “drunk” when he disagreed with him — have been severe. Years ago, someone left a dead dog on his doorstep; a brick was thrown through his coffee shop’s window in August 2013. In May 2017, someone set fire to two of his townhouses that were under construction. Both homes were listed for over half a million dollars.

None of these actions will stop Feibush or any other developer with the means and desire to capitalize on the latest “hot” neighborhood. Thousands of people are only too eager to buy or rent these urban McMansions. But these gentrifiers aren’t the source of the increasing inequities in the housing industry, nor are they the source of the continuing displacement of the poor and working class. The ones who are pulling the strings, and who housing activists must target in their affordable-housing campaigns, are developers and politicians.


While politicians and developers advertise the tax abatement as a subsidy to homebuyers, it’s actually a much larger subsidy for developers and banks. The developer makes a higher profit, and the bank makes more from interest, because the abatement allows buyers to qualify for larger mortgages. As such, developers make huge returns on their investments. Because the abatement lowers the tax portion of a homeowner’s monthly payment, it increases the house portion of the payment.

Individuals looking for homes and apartments don’t set the costs of housing, of course — capitalists do, and politicians are often ready to help them bump that price higher.

Although Feibush didn’t win his city council race, another developer did. Allan Domb, known as the “Condo King,” has pushed for doubling the tax abatement from ten years to twenty. The former two-time president of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors continued his realty career even after his city council win in 2015, purchasing a nineteen-story office building in downtown Philadelphia for $17 million in April 2016.


> more: https://jacobinmag.com/2017/07/philadelphia-affordable-housing-gentrification-tenants-union

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