Ori Feibush’s stalled project at 20th and Wharton gets green light from planners

Ori Feibush swears he’s going to sell the warehouse at 20th and Wharton, just as soon as he gets it through zoning approvals.

Feibush, the Point Breeze developer who’s nearing the homestretch of a campaign to unseat 2nd-District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, failed once last year to secure variances for a project that would replace the warehouse at 2010 Wharton Street with 22 row houses. Now he’s trying again, with redesigned houses and, most significantly, parking spaces for each. The previous proposal included no parking spots.

On Tuesday, the City Planning Commission voted to support the proposal when it goes before the zoning board next month. Because the property is zoned for industrial use—a designation that the Commission staff admits is outdated—Feibush needs a variance to build houses there.  

The houses are each 38 feet tall, with pilot houses and roof decks. Each has a parking space in the rear, accessed by a shared driveway.

Despite the addition of parking to the project, some nearby residents still oppose it. A few testified at the Commission hearing on Tuesday, including Theresa McCormick of Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze, and Albert Littlepage, a Democratic committeeman in the 48th Ward. McCormick said that Point Breeze needs jobs more than new residents, and asked the Planning Commission why it wasn’t supporting commercial development at the site. Littlepage said some residents feel like they’re living in “occupied territory.” He said he supports residential development, but wonders why all the new houses have to be as big as legally possible.

Steve Cobb, a staffer for Councilman Johnson, attended the hearing but didn’t testify.

In an interview with PlanPhilly late last year, Feibush said that he’s divested himself from all the development properties he has owned, except for the Wharton Street warehouse.

“It’s a very difficult building to make financial sense for anyone else, and it’s difficult for me to sell a building if, frankly, I’m afraid to sell it, because under the current zoning code, if I sell it to somebody who wants to open a gas station, they could tomorrow,” Feibush said at the time. “And that goes counter to everything I’ve ever wanted over there. I will continue to own the warehouse because I’m not willing to risk somebody else having a key property over there when the zoning is messed up.”

Feibush reiterated the point on Tuesday, saying the timing of the approvals coinciding with the campaign is not something he planned or would have wanted. Another proposal across the street, involving 48 homes, is “dead in the water,” according to Feibush. 

“The truth is I’ve been trying to go through the zoning and approval process for over two years on this property,” he said. “… The reality is that this is a zoning classification that is not only anachronistic but would create tremendous negative externalities for every resident if it was developed for any of the potential uses where it could legally be.”

The current proposal was taken to the zoning board last month, but the board asked that it go through the Planning Commission. Feibush said he would try to sell the project as soon as the variances are approved. It will go back to the ZBA, he said, on May 19th: election day.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal