This is by far the largest story to ever grace Philadelinquency. It also seems the most complicated, but really… the nature of this game is a simple Philly tradition: greed. The story begins with a small developer trying to rehabilitate one of Philadelphia’s most crime-ravaged neighborhoods: Point Breeze.
In case you haven’t heard of him, Ori Feibush is a lightning rod in the epicenter of one of the biggest gentrification battles in the United States: the Point Breeze neighborhood of Philadelphia. In the last several months though, the trenches in this battle have been dug deeper and the battle has gotten nastier.
Where is this war being waged? At the corner of Titan Street and Point Breeze Avenue.
Who is Ori Feibush?
Ori Feibush is a young guy who had an idea: Point Breeze is close to transit and amenities, but it looks like fucking Beirut down there (our words, not his). Why hasn’t anybody been able to do anything with this neighborhood when it is completely surrounded by other neighborhoods on all sides which are doing well? Land in Point Breeze is so cheap, it costs less than a VCR. Maybe if I build some houses near the subway stops on some vacant lots, people will want to move in?
His thought has turned into OCF Realty, which primarily builds brand new houses on Point Breeze lots. There is no shortage of vacant land in Point Breeze on which to build, either–it’s everywhere.
While Point Breeze has never seen improvement in the last 50 years, the last 5 years of development has sparked one of America’s nastiest gentrification battles, tinged on racial lines.
His zoning presentations have been torpedoed repeatedly where residents can’t even get to the point to hold a vote on his projects. Angry upset residents, some who don’t even live in Point Breeze, conjure up scary flyers and stand next to copy machines stamping them out each time Ori proposes a new project.
These residents, who call themselves Concerned Citizens for Point Breeze, have now been offset by new residents who are talking of launching their own Registered Community Organization to swamp the small but very vocal voices of anti-gentrifiers who are upset about three story homes, granite countertops and green roofs.
This past winter, a zoning proposal for an indoor cafe with no outdoor seating lasted several hours in a large church without any heat. And near the end of that meeting, one of the belligerents who stands against Ori stole ballots and invalidated the vote. The zoning request was granted but ultimately resulted in a lawsuit in Common Pleas by the leader of Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze.
Ori has had a dead dog left on his Point Breeze doorstep. He’s been harassed countless times by lawyers representing the diabolical angry mass who is convinced that neighborhood revitalization automatically means eviction.
While that’s quite true for the Point Breeze neighbors who rent from greedy landlords who cannot wait to kick out their tenants and sell their slum houses that owe back taxes and are full of code violations (hey, a big payday is far better than putting up with constant L&I violations and neighbor complains), for the high percentage of Point Breeze residents owning property: it means comparatively little change other than drug dealers who cannot afford to rent melting off the block.
Ori’s Opponents Are Trying Something New: A Shakedown
This battle has been going on for four years now, but a new tactic has emerged that I call The Shakedown. After speaking at length with Ori, he updated me on some of the newest battles he is fighting on the very same projects he proposed in 2011. The latest one has to do with Ori’s difficulty in assembling half of a block of Point Breeze at the intersection of Titan Street and Point Breeze Avenue:
The largest problem Ori has with his assemblage is with the corner parcel: 1242-48 Point Breeze Avenue. This parcel is on the same block the City hasn’t recorded properly for about 100 years and it’s seen a Sheriff’s Sale at least two times. The last time it was sent to Sheriff Sale it was purchased by two Russian women, Natallya Edelson and Olga Tishchenko.
So what’s so special about this assemblage of properties? Back in the 1920s, the City had agreed to consolidate everything from 2036 Titan Street all the way around the corner East to 1242-1248 Point Breeze Avenue (where the commercial building once sat). However, the City never did update the records and titles to correctly reflect the lot line changes.
OPA’s own records also have a completely incorrect starting position for the lot lines.
So on paper anyway, there exists a property: 2034-2036 Titan Street, which the City of Philadelphia forgot about, even though it had a big commercial property sitting on top of it which faced Point Breeze Avenue. It’s a consolidated parcel that doesn’t show up on any zoning map, and certainly not on the City’s official lot diagrams after 1923.
Presently the two parcels that were part of the corner property the commercial building sat on are consolidated with the corner Point Breeze property. The problem is that it wasn’t properly recorded. The lots were consolidated prior to construction of the commercial building but the City never started charging more money in real estate tax for the larger parcel. Like many other things in Point Breeze, the City just forgot about it.
2034-36 Titan Street – Technically according to the City’s records, this parcel doesn’t even exist. It was consolidated with 1242-48 Point Breeze back in 1923 but improperly recorded. 2034-36 Titan is not correctly recorded in OPA’s records either and it shows on the City’s pay-to-use ParcelExplorer as 2034 Point Breeze Avenue, which has no frontage on Point Breeze Avenue at all, even though two doors down is 2038 Titan Street, which is properly recorded.
Since there is a legal definition of 2034-36 in a book somewhere in City Hall, Ori has to show clear title to that imaginary parcel, too. So, before OCF Realty can spend millions to construct buildings on these parcels, Ori has to get quiet title to the chunk in the middle which does not exist.
Needless to say, several people have their hands out asking for money in this situation.
Concerned Citizens is Suddenly Concerned About Getting Paid
So while these Russian ladies sold Ori their parcels, when it comes to the imaginary parcel that doesn’t exist, they refuse to release claim to the property even though they sold everything they knew they owned on the block to OCF Realty already.
Hoping to frustrate further, Rochelle Fieldcamp, attorney for our Russian friends, reached out to Dean Orloff whose family owned the property many years ago.
Dean Orloff claims he is an heir to the former owners of this sliver of land and is threatening Ori, wanting the property back “for sentimental value” even though his family abandoned it decades ago and hasn’t been paying real estate taxes on it going on 91+ years.
Dean also happens to be an attorney. We found him on Avvo and noticed this:
Orloff argues that this tiny chunk of land really belongs to him and has even inserted himself in the lawsuit between OCF Realty and the investors OCF purchased the lots from.
What’s even better? Orloff’s ancestors lost this property, with the large commercial building and 5 single family homes his family owned years ago after the City demolished the buildings and sold them at Sheriff Sale. The properties did not even sell for 10% of the liens the Orloffs stuck the City for, yet he now claims to own this small piece of land free and clear. But since OCF Realty intends to build on these lots, he’s demanding $40,000 in compensation from OCF Realty for “sentimental value”.
Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze seems to have picked up this tactic in a hurry, too. Denise Patton, a CCOPB activist who has been holding one of Ori’s properties hostage in a bogus Common Pleas zoning appeal, contacted OCF Realty stating that they wouldn’t back off their appeal unless Ori writes them a check.
Rochelle Fieldcamp, Esq. who is representing the Russian sellers and now suddenly seems to be interested in also representing the interests of Mr. Orloff who states that he wants the property back, relayed to Ori’s attorney “my clients are Russian if you know what I mean.”
Well, does Dean Orloff really want the property back? Ori tells me that Mr. Orloff hit his attorney up with a request for $40,000 for a piece of land where he’s been lost in a cloudy title chain. Going on eight decades.
Cloudy title is not something new to investor Natallya Edelson, either, which residents of Mount Airy can attest to. Another dispute Edelson was involved in up in Mount Airy has rendered land in that neighborhood permanently undevelopable unless the City of Philadelphia steps in with eminent domain authority and sweeps away all claims to the property. That’s not likely to happen; and the combatants are keeping the property taxes paid up to keep the City of Philadelphia’s attention span somewhere else.
Ori’s Not Playing
During the interview for this story, Ori made it crystal clear to me that he’s not willing to fork over a cent to greedy people trying to hold him hostage or their attorneys, especially to Concerned Citizens.
“I have not and never will pay these fuckers,” Ori said.
Dean Orloff’s demand to OCF Realty to withdraw Quiet Title to 2034-36 Titan Street
OCF Historical Research on Titan Street & Point Breeze Avenue
OCF Realty’s Quiet Title Suit
Natallya Edelson and Olga Tschenko’s Response
Research paid by defense counsel claiming that the Orloff family never gave up this property (so, does that mean Natallya Edelson and Olga Tschenko never had a rightful claim to it?)