Philadelphia News & Search
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 townhouse of his project at 20th and Wharton Streets in Point Breeze. A second round of 11 townhouses was to break ground on the site Monday as well.
That all went up in flames early Monday when a suspicious fire broke out in the middle units of his project.
“We’re waiting to hear from officials on what seems like the obvious,” Feibush said, standing against a light pole at Wharton and Woodstock Street, watching the Arson Task Force go through the fire debris of his property.
No injuries were reported.
Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel told reporters at the scene that the fire, which was reported about 4:15 a.m., destroyed two of the townhouses under construction. The three-bedroom, four-bathroom townhouses were listed at $550,000 to $625,000.
Feibush said he was at home sleeping when someone was banging on his door at 4:25, presumably to let him know that his latest project was on fire. He was so startled that he called 911.
He walked five blocks with his wife and dog to see the site engulfed in flames.
Neighbor gave me this vid of fire @ 20th&Wharton in Point Breeze. 2 homes under construction destroyed �� Ryan Brown pic.twitter.com/3w8cqFLoM6
— Trang Do (@TrangDoCBS3) May 1, 2017
It took about 75 firefighters about an hour to bring the fire under control. Thiel credited firefighters with tackling the fire quickly and aggressively.
Feibush had to call the buyer who was set to close Monday on the corner unit to let him know the 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 quickly as possible.
“We’re eager to demolish what needs to be demolished, get back in, and complete the project,” he said, adding that the Department of Licenses and Inspections was expected to allow his crew back on site by the end of the day Monday.
Nearby residents were standing around or sitting on their front steps at midday Monday, watching fire crews work the scene.
Donald Tibbs, 50, who lives a few houses down from the development, said there was an open house Sunday for the project. He said that it’s the type of block where everyone looks after one another, but that the new Feibush project received a lot of pushback.
“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.
William Hall, a lifelong resident of the area, said 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.”
For years, Feibush has been a controversial figure in Point Breeze as a result of the market-rate homes he’s been building. He has been accused of driving out long-term residents by gentrifying the area. 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 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 pushback 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.”
Just two weeks ago, fliers were posted around Point Breeze that read 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 townhouses that were planned for 20th and Wharton, Feibush owns the large vacant lot next to it at 2012 Wharton, where he plans to build 48 townhouses.
Philadelphia News & Search