Ori Feibush, controversial developer, suffers set back with Point Breeze fire

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Monday was supposed to be a good day for real estate developer Ori Feibush. 

He was to hand over the keys and officially close on the first half-million dollar townhome of his massive project on 20th and Wharton  in Point Breeze. A second round of 11 townhomes was to break ground on the site Monday as well. 

That all went up in flames early Monday morning when a suspicious fire broke out in the middle units of his 20th and Wharton project. 

“We’re waiting to hear from officials on what seems like the obvious,” Feibush said, standing against a light pole at the corner of Wharton and Woodstock streets, watching the Arson Taskforce go through the fire debris of his property. 

Investigators were on the scene all morning trying to determine the cause of the raging two-alarm fire that destroyed two townhouses under construction in South Philadelphia’s gentrifying Point Breeze neighborhood.

No injuries were reported in the blaze.

Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel told reporters at the scene that the fire, which was reported about 4:15 a.m., destroyed two of townhouses under construction at the site. The three bedroom/four bathroom town homes were listed between $550,000 and $625,000. 

Feibush said that he was at home sleeping when someone was banging on his door at 4:25 a.m., presumably to let him know that his latest project was on fire. He was so startled that he called 911. After he got off the call with 911, he saw “a million texts” about the fire. 

He walked down five blocks with his wife and dog to see the site engulfed in flames. 

It took about 75 firefighters operating from 22 pieces of equipment about an hour to bring the fire under control. Thiel credited firefighters with tackling the fire quickly and aggressively, saying that “anywhere else in the country,” the blaze would have gone to five alarms and consumed the entire block. 

Feibush had to call the buyer who was set to close Monday on the corner unit to let him know closing wouldn’t be happening for now. 

“They were rightfully shaken,” he said. He wasn’t aware yet of specific damages to that property “other than the water that is dripping from the ceiling.”

Looking tired and stressed, Feibush said he wants to continue building the site as quick as possible.

“We’re eager to demolish what needs to be demolished, get back in and complete the project,” he said, adding the the city’s Licensing and Inspections Department was expected to allow him and his crew back on site by the end of the day Monday. 

Nearby residents were standing around or sitting on their stoops midday Monday, watching fire crews work the scene. The power on the block was back on before Noon Monday but their cable was still out at that time. 

Donald Tibbs, 50, who lives just a few houses down from the new development said that there was an open house Sunday for the project. He said it’s the type of block in which everyone looks after one another but that the new Feibush project received a lot of push back. 

“It’s the classic resistance to new developers coming into the neighborhood,” said Tibbs, a Drexel law professor who moved to 20th and Wharton five years ago. 

On the other side of 20th and Wharton lifelong residents of the area Ernie Peebles and William Hall said that the new development has been controversial for some time. 

“I’m for change but it needs to be moderated,” Hall said. “Now it’s transitioning from Point Breeze to Oriville.” 

Feibush has for years been a controversial figure in Point Breeze over the new construction market rate homes he’s been building. He and his company OCF Realty have been subject to vandalism and harassment over the years. Feibush unsuccessfully tried to unseat Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who represents Point Breeze, in the 2015 Democratic primary. 

Johnson, on Monday, said he wouldn’t speculate on the cause of the fire until the fire department made a ruling.

“I’m glad no one got hurt,” Johnson said.

When asked about the push back against Feibush from some community members, Johnson said: “I’m not going to associate people who are going to community meetings with any type of vandalism,” he said. “Those people who speak at community meetings are giving opinions on development projects and hopefully it stops there.”

Just two weeks ago, flyers were posted around Point Breeze that said in part: “OCF REALTY, is displacing the BLACK and BROWN people in the POINT-BREEZE and surrounding communities.” And: “Don’t be pushed out!! Stand up!! Fight back!!”

In addition to the 22 town homes that were planned for the 20th and Wharton sire, Feibush also has ownership of the large vacant lot next to it at 2012 Wharton, where he plans to build 48 town homes. 

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