Help us save the city from itself.
Dear Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority:
I regret to inform you that you have failed me as well as the citizenry of this fine town that we all call home.
For years, it seems you’ve stood in the way of progress, or at least made progress as easy and painless as a root canal. I ask you why? As an agency charged with improving the lives of its citizens, why do you stand passively while large swaths of numerous neighborhoods remain blighted?
I opened one of the first new businesses on Point Breeze’s blighted commercial corridor in years. While I have grown accustomed to a City government that seems to discourage small business, I was not expecting the fight of my life just to open a coffee shop. Where were the elected officials in that fight? I looked behind me and they were definitely not in my corner. I was delayed and stone walled at every turn by the same people elected to serve my neighbors and me.
Now, I clean the lot you took possession of 36 years ago directly behind that coffee shop, making the community safer for all, and you threaten me with a lawsuit. How could you possibly prefer what was there last month to what is there now? I called, texted, and e-mailed your offices for years. I could not get a single person to show up from your agency. I did finally get an official from Licenses and Inspections to visit the lot. He recognized it was a mess and wrote a ticket…..to me!
The tale of this lot has been all over the news, garnering coverage from across the globe, and eliciting tens of thousands of letters and comments from other people just as fed up as me. I cleaned up this lot in spite of your agency’s verbal and written demands that I not trespass on the lot, and in the face of threats of legal action. I undertook this effort because I was fed up with your inaction and unresponsiveness; and frankly, my patience had run out after all these years.
Your agency, charged with selling land to business owners, neighbors, and community groups, claimed that they only first heard of my interest in this property in the days before I performed this cleanup. That same agency had put out press releases and called me a liar. When presented with evidence regarding my many expressions of interest for the parcel they issued no apology.
You sent another press release and claimed there were “three other parties” that have expressed interest in this one lot. Impossible! In nearly four decades, only 3 parties have expressed interest? What happened to what must be dozens of additional applications?
In thirty-six years, what has this agency done with this lot? Why were you only now getting around to selling it after 36 years of neglect? Look at what this lot looked like during the years you maintained it, and then look at it now. I don’t think there is a sane person in this world that agrees with you.
You claim that I am fleecing tax payers by spending my own money to clean up what would otherwise be the tax payers’ expense. How does that make any sense to you? You speak out in opposition to this garden and call it a land grab. You claim the land is worth $50,000 and that you intended to sell it. I say rubbish! You own over 14,000 lots and sell hardly any at “market rate.”
A few hundred feet away from the garden, you sold 2040 Ellsworth Street four years ago for a mere $500. How was that lot worth $500 and this lot worth $50,000? Guess what, they’re both worth $50,000! How was selling that lot for $500 not fleecing tax payers? Does the Redevelopment Authority not discuss that sale because City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson just bought a new home on that lot?
I repeat: Our Councilman moved into Point Breeze AFTER the election and did so by moving into a home built on a lot sold by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority for $500 just a few years before. Isn’t that amazing?
You simply cannot make this stuff up. If I were not living this tragedy myself I would have assumed it was written in The Onion.
Regarding your missing records of my countless expressions of interest… shame on you. You either wantonly threw my applications in the trash or simply never got around to reviewing them. Both should be grounds for immediate termination.
Want another example of your inability to get out of your own way? Here’s a quick one.
After six years of aggravation and countless requests, you graciously agreed to allow me to purchase three lots directly across the street from the coffee shop and garden. Five minutes later (not a typo), you filed for condemnation on the very same lots you just voted to sell me. Your explanation....”the property owner had not put forward any plans.” A) That’s 100% false. B) You were staring at the plans 5 minutes before and used those same plans to vote to sell me the lots. More so, I had owned the adjacent lot for less than a year and you decided I was not moving fast enough and condemned that lot too!
Yes, after owning the lot for a fraction of the time you own real estate, you determined that I wasn’t moving quickly enough. Imagine if you held yourselves to those kinds of deadlines!
Clearly, the PRA has failed here and forced a private citizen to take action. Will you finally now, apologize for what you have done and allow everyone to move along with their lives?
Ori C. Feibush