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Thread: City may sue developer who spent $20,000 to remove 40 tons of trash from vacant lot

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    City may sue developer who spent $20,000 to remove 40 tons of trash from vacant lot

    What say you? Read first, my response is below as to not rob you of your reaction.

    http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow...200922350.html

    City may sue developer who spent $20,000 to remove 40 tons of trash from vacant lot

    A business developer in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Point Breeze is facing legal action after voluntarily cleaning up more than 40 tons of trash from a vacant lot neighboring his local business.

    As the old adage goes, no good deed goes unpunished. Ori Feibush says he visited the local offices of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority four times, sent in seven written requests and made 24 phone calls to the agency asking them to take care of a major eyesore: an empty lot next to his coffee shop was home to more than 40 tons of debris.

    Not only did the agency fail to act but it also denied Feibush's offer to clean up the mess himself. But the Daily News reports that Feibush went ahead with his plans anyway, reportedly spending more than $20,000 of his own money not only to remove the trash but also to level the soil; add cherry trees, fencing and park benches; and repave the sidewalk.

    "This was a lot of garbage," local resident Elaine McGrath told the paper. "Now it's gorgeous. I'm excited."

    However, the city agency was less excited, demanding that Feibush return the vacant lot to its previous condition and saying it is considering legal action against him. "Like any property owner, [the authority] does not permit unauthorized access to or alteration of its property," Paul D. Chrystie, director of communications at the Office of Housing and Community Development told the paper. "This is both on principle (no property owner knowingly allows trespassing) and to limit taxpayer liability." And the situation is not without irony. Feibush says he received a citation in August 2011 from the city for litter on the same lot that the city now points out is not his property.

    Nonetheless, the city's request puts Feibush in an unusual position. In theory, he committed a good deed, investing his own time and money to improve the condition of his neighborhood when city authorities refused to step up to the plate. But he also knowingly did so after the city refused his request to intervene.

    The situation is almost like a reverse case of eminent domain, in which a private owner is attempting to revitalize a piece of public property.
    For his part, Feibush thinks the city agency is jealous. "For a private developer to create a garden, it's a question of who gets credit. To do it without their blessing, you're basically insulting them," he said. "I'm not looking for a thank-you, but I'm not looking for a big F.U."

    *****

    My first reaction to clicking on the article was "no way that's just stupid" but in the back of my head I knew there had to be a legitimate reason. The article headline is totally misleading, he isn't being sued over the trash being hauled away - if he just stopped there it isn't even news, but he put improvements (as small and temporary as they may be) on the neighboring lot which he does not own. Trees, benches, tables, and fencing - that is why he is being sued.

    I also think calling him a "developer" is a little over reporting, he is a business owner.

    What say you? What if you were the zoning inspector? Do you leave this as a neighbor dispute or do you step in? What if it was only garbage he hauled away - do you look the other way - would it be a police action only?
    @GigCityPlanner

  2. #2
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    There is so much we do not know about this. Removing trash? Show me a 'before' pic. Was the intention to clean up the lot, or expand the cafe business on to land he does own? Were the multiple requests hinged on the benches and tables? Also, I wonder what is now hidden behind the fencing. BTW, it does look nice.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    Was he wrong to do the site improvements? Yes.

    Is the City legally wrong to threaten a lawsuit? Probably not.

    Is it a bad PR move by the City to sue? Definitely.

    If I was the City, I would approach the "developer" about a friendly lawsuit, and then propose a consent judgement that stated that if the City ever wanted to redevelop the lot, they were not entitled to compensate the developer for the improvements that he paid for. This way the developer keeps his little pocket park, but the City reserves the right to develop it in the future.
    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"

  4. #4
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    This is exactly the sort of stuff that happens around here. Not enough of the right enforcement causes the issue, then those who address the problem often times instead of being lauded get the book thrown at them.

    If the City was doing the correct kind of enforcement and listening to the local business owners (who also provide services, not to mention tax revenue) this would have never happened.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    What immediately came to mind are the many movements - often lauded by planners - for "guerilla" groups to claim unused city space for small parks. I think of the groups that begin to garden a vacant lot, or convert a parking space to a pleasant seating area. Maybe this individual will benefit by having the cleaned up lot with seating. Perhaps he owns a restaurant and patrons may sit there. I am speculating. But so what? In its previous condition the lot was an eyesore, by all accounts, as well as a potential health and safety hazard. The government agency should have responded immediately. They repeatedly did not. He took action, as many urban activists do. I hope the agency gets plenty of bad press coverage and a good slap in the face from some of the politicians who should be watching what is going on.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  6. #6
    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    This is exactly the sort of stuff that happens around here. Not enough of the right enforcement causes the issue, then those who address the problem often times instead of being lauded get the book thrown at them.

    If the City was doing the correct kind of enforcement and listening to the local business owners (who also provide services, not to mention tax revenue) this would have never happened.
    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    What immediately came to mind are the many movements - often lauded by planners - for "guerilla" groups to claim unused city space for small parks. I think of the groups that begin to garden a vacant lot, or convert a parking space to a pleasant seating area. Maybe this individual will benefit by having the cleaned up lot with seating. Perhaps he owns a restaurant and patrons may sit there. I am speculating. But so what? In its previous condition the lot was an eyesore, by all accounts, as well as a potential health and safety hazard. The government agency should have responded immediately. They repeatedly did not. He took action, as many urban activists do. I hope the agency gets plenty of bad press coverage and a good slap in the face from some of the politicians who should be watching what is going on.
    I work at a CDC in Newark, NJ. I can picture this happening here. We purchased five vacant lots and a tax foreclosure property from the city under an affordable housing agreement. Two of the vacant lots have habitually been eyesores in the community as the city failed to maintain them unless a councilperson goaded them into cleaning the property up. The tax foreclosure property was a drug house that was missing half its roof and the third floor had collapsed through to the second floor and then had a fire in it.

    We took title in July 2011. My first welcome to the neighborhood gift was a code enforcement violation for trash and debris on the two problem lots a week after we owned them. There are no predetermined fines here and the property owner must appear in court to resolve the matter, because we are a corporation and attorney has to go with me. Fine: $100 + $33 court cost for each and $250 to the attorney. Another violation within 30 days was soon issued: failure to fence and place a sign of ownership with contact info on the fence. Both were dismissed but $250 to the attorney. Notice to abate on the derelict property to demolish or rehab within 90 days....after the property had a) a building permit, b) workers on site, c) a preliminary building inspection to ensure structural integrity. That was offensive to me and really an indicator that the city is not particularly interested in dealing with it's significant code enforcement issues. We hit up the mayor a few weeks ago to clean up a vacant lot that had two feet of trash and abandoned vehicles on it after 7 months of complaints to 4311/Code Enforcement. It was cleaned up in two days. Many city owned lots are poorly maintained yet they will come after anyone to make a $100 for a bag of trash or overgrown weeds or grass.

    I understand Mr. Freibush's irritation at the city about the lack of response to the issue and having an eyesore next to something you are trying to develop to improve the community. I also understand the city's position to a degree but I also think that there could be a resolution that allows the improvements to stay as long as they are maintained and if the city chooses to develop or sell the lot that he is responsible for removing the improvements.

    Here's a photo of the lot that that was cleaned up. While the photo shows that the lot mostly had overgrown grass/weeds it's important to understand how quickly a vacant lot in an urban city can quickly be a dumping ground for all sorts of trash and debris. http://goo.gl/maps/qvfP5
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    I think KJel's situation shows us all that code enforcement is just as much an art as a regulation.

    When I was in charge of code enforcement my officers would take a more human approach and typically give a landowner 1 or even more shots of remedying the situation. It kept us out of court which would chew up a day of my inspectors' time and also keep that negative experience from happening. However, when there were violations we would cite everything wrong in one shot. I think that's what's most frustrating to KJel is the monthly violations that you could have corrected in one shot (especially if someone gave you 30 days).

    My only concern about letting this individual utilize this lot for his coffee shop patrons is liability. Typically I'm the last person who talks liability because I think our country is over sue happy, however the lot appears to be redevelopment department property and the city is often looked at as a cash cow for claims. I don't know what to do here to remedy the situation, offer the lot for sale? Give him a lease on the property or have him carry insurance and a hold harmless on the city? I don't know.
    @GigCityPlanner

  8. #8
    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tide View post
    I think KJel's situation shows us all that code enforcement is just as much an art as a regulation.

    When I was in charge of code enforcement my officers would take a more human approach and typically give a landowner 1 or even more shots of remedying the situation. It kept us out of court which would chew up a day of my inspectors' time and also keep that negative experience from happening. However, when there were violations we would cite everything wrong in one shot. I think that's what's most frustrating to KJel is the monthly violations that you could have corrected in one shot (especially if someone gave you 30 days).

    My only concern about letting this individual utilize this lot for his coffee shop patrons is liability. Typically I'm the last person who talks liability because I think our country is over sue happy, however the lot appears to be redevelopment department property and the city is often looked at as a cash cow for claims. I don't know what to do here to remedy the situation, offer the lot for sale? Give him a lease on the property or have him carry insurance and a hold harmless on the city? I don't know.
    Code enforcement is certainly part art, but the art is lost when a city treats it as a cash cow (abate in 3-10 days). Fortunately, I have developed a good working relationship with a code officer who gives me a heads up, a realistic time frame to abate, and I've only been in court twice this year (ticketed by other officers).

    We work through some leases with the city for a $1 with a hold harmless and place liability insurance on the property and have a shared maintenance agreement depending on the use. We have a community garden, pocket park, and playground with this type of arrangement. The city recently approached us to do a ground lease on a School Development Authority site in our neighborhood which we are pondering.
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

  9. #9
    I reminded of a story out of St. Paul's when hearing about kjel's experience. This article gives a brief overview. Basically, a group of landlords filed a number of lawsuit against the city of St. Paul over code enforcement crackdowns on their rental properties. The landlords made a number of claims that were mostly thrown out with the exception of one that dealt with fair housing. They claimed that the code enforcement activities negatively impacted the predominantly African American community where the code enforcement was concentrated. The landlords argued that the aggressive code enforcement practices increased costs for private owners that rent to low-income tenants, resulting in less affordable housing in the city, which allegedly harmed the disproportionately high number of African Americans and other minorities that rely upon non-subsidized affordable housing. From what I understand, the appeals court ruled in favor of the landlords, prompting the city to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    They have been litigating for years now. It will be interesting to see the final verdict and fallout.
    The content contrarian

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Well I've worked in a city that probably has more minitature landfills on vacant lots per capita than anywhere else, but I don't agree that it's desirable for private citizens to be making unauthorized improvements to parcels they don't even own. That's not guerilla planning, that's vigilante planning.

    Where do you draw the line? What if my neighbor has 5 used cars for sale on his/her lawn and I judge that to be an eyesore that is bringing down the value of my property? Is it cool if I have the cars towed away at night because the code enforcement officer hasn't resolved the situation to my satisfaction?

    As frustrating as it is to witness, this kind of thing probably needs to be discouraged.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    While he put in a good effort to clean up the parcel, I don't believe he was motivated by purely philanthropic reasons. Yes, it was an eyesore, but the picnic table now allows for some outdoor cafe space for his coffee shop.

    The City shouldn't sue him. They apparently don't have the funds or manpower to stay up on their vacant property so as already mentioned, sell or lease it to the guy.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Here is another one I saw on the news just last night. Here is a guy who cleaned out a city-owned lot at his own expense because of rodent issues. He gets a $1,000 fine from the City!
    http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/story/19...up-detroit-lot
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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