Real estate developer Ori Feibush has tried for years to acquire the city-owned lot near where he planned to open a new business, he says. An eyesore filled with trash, weeds, broken glass and other dangerous substances, it was undeniably a deterrent to potential customers.
"Feibush…submitted seven written requests for either owning or leasing the parcel, has called the [redevelopment] authority 24 times and has visited its office four times," according to the Philadelphia Daily News.
Finally, fed up before the grand opening of his new coffee shop, Feibush decided to clean the lot himself.
Pouring $20,000 into the project, Feibush estimates that he removed 40 tons of debris from the lot. They poured a new sidewalk, and placed a bench and picnic table in the newly-attractive area, ABC reports.
Feibush said parents, children, and dog-walkers are now visiting the property, when before the homeless would sleep behind the nine-foot weeds, ABC relates.
"This was a lot of garbage," Elaine McGrath said, observing the new plants and benches. "Now it's gorgeous. I'm excited."
Feibush said simply: "They promised they would get around to [cleaning it]...[but] I did not believe I could open up a coffee shop when people couldn't traverse the sidewalk."
But as soon as the area was once again habitable the city apparently stepped in to say, among other things, that the lot is now a safety hazard.
"You are requested to immediately stop all work and return the j-barriers to the original location," Paul Chrystie, director of communications for Philadelphia's Office of Housing and Community Development, allegedly wrote in an email. The barriers are supposedly for the safety of the public, and to prevent trash dumping.
Chrystie added in a statement: "Like any property owner, [the authority] does not permit unauthorized access to or alteration of its property. This is both on principle (no property owner knowingly allows trespassing) and to limit taxpayer liability."
The city also claimed Feibush never sought permission to use the lot, saying his action was "not fair" to taxpayers or other potential buyers. In letters and emails, the city reportedly threatened legal action, saying it was "actively reviewing" its options.
Feibush said he was both disappointed that his previous efforts to obtain the lot went unnoticed, and that he was surprised the city appeared to care so much after "ignoring" the lot for decades.
“I expected a thank you," Feibush remarked. "I didn’t expect the reaction to be what it was, go find 40 tons of trash and put it back.”
"We made (the lot) what it should have always been," he added, saying that it's a shame the lot will once again become "a piece of squalor."