New update: ZBA approves Feibush project at 2010 Wharton

UPDATE: Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

On Tuesday, the Zoning Board of Adjustment approved a proposal to build 22 homes at 20th and Wharton streets in Point Breeze, according to multiple sources. The site was formerly home to a vacant warehouse, which was recently demolished by the owner, Ori Feibush.

“It’s an awesome win not just for me and my organization but for the entire community,” said Feibush.

He said he would have preferred to build the homes without parking, because it would have created more life on the street. A parking space also increases the cost and therefore the selling price of a home by about $50,000, he said, citing a study by economist Kevin Gillen. But, he said, “It was an opportunity to compromise and show good faith.”

Second District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who opposed the project at the zoning board, said he hoped Feibush would still try to talk to the project’s opponents and make changes to the design.

“Now that the ZBA has approved the planned development at 2010 Wharton St., my hope is that the development team and the members of the community who have concerns will come to the table and continue to work together to find more ways to resolve differences and eliminate objections,” Johnson said in a statement to PlanPhilly. “This should be a two-way street that leads us to a project that makes everyone in the community proud. Now is the time to move forward and we hope everyone will do their part.”

ORIGINAL COVERAGE: Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ori Feibush must not be totally broke.

On Wednesday, he was attempting to get zoning approvals for the last property that he owns outright, a former warehouse at 20th and Wharton streets, which sat vacant for years before he demolished it starting last month. The proposal is controversial, like most of the things the young developer is involved in.

Last year, Feibush tried and failed to get zoning approval for a similar project at the industrially zoned site, involving 22 single-family homes. The original proposal included no parking, which, among other things, ticked off the neighbors. The current proposal also includes 22 homes, but it also includes 22 parking spaces. The Planning Commission recommended that the project be approved earlier this year, a few weeks before Feibush lost his bid to unseat 2nd District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson.

Joseph Beller, Feibush’s attorney, said the inclusion of parking spaces is evidence that the developer is willing to compromise with neighbors.  But that’s next to nothing, said Haley Dervinis, a Point Breeze resident who has repeatedly clashed with Feibush. She said the community is concerned not just about parking, but also with density, with the lack of green space, the lack of affordable units, and the overall design of the project.

Feibush’s team pointed out that parking would be refused under the residential zoning classification recommended by the Planning Commission. And anyway, including garages generally raises the cost and therefore the selling price of houses.

At the zoning hearing—which ended without a decision from the board—staff counted around 90 people who were there in support of the project and 15 or so who were opposed.

While the hands were raised in support, I got a text message from Steve Cobb, an aide to Councilman Johnson. “$50 a piece,” he wrote, implying the supporters had been paid to show up. Later, Claudia Sherrod of South Philadelphia HOMES, a registered community organization (RCO), made the same suggestion in her official testimony.

The supporters guffawed.

“We were doing so well,” said Greg Pastore, a zoning board member.

(I asked Feibush whether he’d paid anybody to show up. “No,” he said. Did his lawyers? “No.”)

Sherrod said that the ratio of supporters to opponents was flipped during the RCO meetings about the project. The RCO board voted 4-0 against the project, and residents in affected properties voted it down 38-24, she said. Councilman Johnson’s office opposes the project as well, essentially because of the lack of “compromise,” according to Steve Cobb.

Cobb acknowledged that the Planning Commission had recommended that the property be rezoned for residential use in the South District Plan, but he said that recommendation doesn’t mean anything until the rezoning actually happens, which is Council’s prerogative. Councilman Johnson doesn’t have any immediate plans to rezone the area.

On cross-examination, Joseph Beller asked Cobb whether Johnson opposes residential zoning for the site. Cobb said he was only authorized to express Johnson’s opposition to the proposal in question.

A young boy in the audience began to cry loudly.

“A perfectly logical reaction,” whispered a ZBA staff member.

“I didn’t even cross-examine him,” said Beller.

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