Controversial Point Breeze developer Ori Feibush made international headlines last year when he cleaned and manicured a trash-filled city property — earning a legal threat from the city. But the threat — and the ensuing media firestorm — have apparently not deterred Feibush from cleaning up the hundreds of vacant city owned lots in the neighborhood.
Neighbors of 1148 S. Cleveland St. — a vacant parcel owned by the City of Philadelphia — say that property has been a mess for years.
"We've found evidence of drugs use, like baggies and needles in there," said resident Julia Bringhurst, whose backyard abuts the lot in question. "There are possums and raccoons and sometimes kids play back there. Once, my neighborhood found a homeless person sleeping under there."
Bringhurst added that she and other neighbors had reported the condition of the lot to 311 and 2nd District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson numerous times over the last year. The lack of response led several neighbors to pay to clear out the lot in the spring. But, the rainy summer turned the grassy lot back into "a jungle."
Bringhurst says she complained about the lot's condition on the message board Philadelphia Speaks, catching Feibush's attention. The lot was cleaned the next day.
"It was a mess," says Feibush, who has recently expressed interest in running against Johnson in next year's Council race. "I was disappointed [neighbors] were having trouble with something as basic as a clean-up."
"We've probably cleaned 40 or 50 lots this year," he said. "The overwhelming majority have been city-owned."
Johnson's office is checking to see if the lot in question was reported to them, but noted that there were thousands of vacant lots in the 2nd District, both city-owned and private.
"Anyone can find a vacant lot that's been complained about," says Johnson staffer Steve Cobb. "We reported five to [the city's Community Life Improvement Program] today."
Cobb says the councilman's office has also organized volunteer cleanups, worked with residents to convert vacant space into parkland and moved to sell some lots. The city is in the process of entering an agreement with a neighbor to use this particular property as an urban garden, Cobb says. He says staff cuts and the overwhelming number of vacant lots in the city make it difficult to respond to every complaint as quickly as his office would like.