City aims to end stink over Point Breeze lot and 40 tons of trash

Developer Ori Feibush at his Point Breeze coffee shop, which is adjacent to the city-owned lot he cleaned up. The city says it wants him to put the concrete barriers back in place - not return the 40 tons of trash he removed.
Developer Ori Feibush at his Point Breeze coffee shop, which is adjacent to the city-owned lot he cleaned up. The city says it wants him to put the concrete barriers back in place - not return the 40 tons of trash he removed. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 23, 2012

City officials said Friday that a formerly trash-strewn, city-owned vacant lot in Point Breeze that was cleaned and landscaped by a neighboring businessman can stay as it is.

That is, until the city sells it.

Edward Covington, executive director of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, spoke to reporters at the lot in the 1100 block of South 20th Street to address what has been a growing controversy for the city.

Covington said that four parties - including the businessman who cleaned the lot, real estate developer Ori Feibush - have expressed interest in buying the lot.

The authority will take steps in the coming weeks to sell it, Covington said.

Feibush has contended that the city told him to restore the lot to its original condition, which made people believe the city wanted 40 tons of trash returned.

Newsweek correspondent Megan McArdle wrote for the Daily Beast website: "Does he have to put back the exact garbage that was there, or will any 40 tons of garbage do?" The story's headline: "Philadelphia Wants its Eyesore Back."

Even a news site in Pakistan published a story about the controversy.

Covington said the city had requested only that the concrete barriers that had been in place to prevent short-dumping be returned to their original position.

Going forward, the landscaping, new sidewalk, fencing, and round picnic tables that Feibush installed can remain, Covington said.

The city has said that it is legally liable for what happens on the lot, and that Feibush was trespassing and had no authority to make changes.

Feibush said the work cost him $23,000. He posted documents and before-and-after photographs of the lot, which is next to a coffee shop he owns at 20th and Federal Streets, on a new website, pleasefixphilly.com.

On top of the ongoing controversy, a neighborhood man got into a heated exchange with Mark McDonald, Mayor Nutter's press secretary, during the news conference.

Michael Parker interrupted Covington's remarks, which prompted McDonald to demand that he be quiet. Parker responded with dismissive, profanity-laced comments about McDonald. At one point, they were almost nose-to-nose and it appeared a fight might break out.

McDonald had the police summoned, and about a dozen officers responded. Parker was not arrested. "They just told me to calm down, and I agreed," he said afterward.

And a video was posted Friday to YouTube of a masked man in the style of the online group Anonymous talking about the vacant lot. The video itself is not original, but is a dubbed version of a video that has circulated with different statements added by different people or groups.

"We the people need to take action and pay the city of Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority and Councilman Kenyatta Johnson a visit," a synthesized voice says in the Friday video.

Feibush alleges that Johnson has worked against his continuing efforts to buy the lot.

"We're aware of the threat," McDonald said. "We've contacted the appropriate authorities and it is being investigated."

Feibush said he had nothing to do with the video and had spoken to the police about it.

Members of Anonymous are perhaps best known for attacks on PayPal and credit-card companies for refusing to process payments for WikiLeaks, which allowed people to leak sensitive documents anonymously.

Rob D'Ovidio, a cybersecurity expert at Drexel University, said that the group's intentions may be good but that its method of protest breaks the law.

"In some sense they are a lot like Robin Hood," he said. "They are standing up for the small guy. But make no mistake about it, what they do is criminal."

Feibush has said that he expressed interest in buying the lot last year, but that authority officials failed to respond.

The city has said Feibush failed to follow the process to buy city-owned land, although he had followed it in the past.

On Friday, Covington and Feibush provided conflicting versions of what transpired regarding the property.

Some neighborhood residents disputed Covington's statement that city cleanup crews had visited the lot nine times since June 2011.

"If the city came to clean it up, that's news to me," said Ernest Ligons, 66, who said he has lived around the corner on Annin Street all his life.

"I've never seen them," said Mary Scott, 63, who also lives on Annin and can see the lot from her house.

Pete Lombardo, 40, who lives on Federal and can also see the lot from the back of his house, said he did see a crew once, possibly in August.

Feibush said that a crew did come in August with one small piece of machinery that got stuck in the mud because it was raining.

Feibush has said, and he reiterated Friday, that his contractor removed 40 tons of trash and debris from the site.

Covington, however, said a city crew came on Aug. 10 and removed 30 tons of construction debris. Feibush said that was false.


Contact Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com, or follow @RobertMoran215 on Twitter.

Inquirer staff writer Miriam Hill contributed to this article.

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