Philadelphia Cracks Down On Business Owner For Cleaning Up Vacant Lot
When I was growing up in Central New Jersey, Philadelphia had become known, not so affectionately, as “Filthy-delphia” in recognition of the fact that the city had become, well, rather dirty looking. Apparently, the current government of Philadelphia wants to keep it that way:
THE CITY-OWNED lot, neighbors say, was in deplorable shape, thick with weeds and trash. So when a business owner cleaned it up last month, spending more than $20,000 and removing, by his count, more than 40 tons of debris, Point Breeze residents went out of their way to pass 20th and Annin streets to see the changes.
“This was a lot of garbage,” Elaine McGrath said as she took in the carefully tended plantings and wooden benches. “Now it’s gorgeous. I’m excited.”
But not everyone is happy with the alterations – namely, the lot’s owner, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.
Paul D. Chrystie, director of communications at the Office of Housing and Community Development, said it’s a simple matter of trespassing. In an email, he said: “Like any property owner, [the authority] does not permit unauthorized access to or alteration of its property. This is both on principle (no property owner knowingly allows trespassing) and to limit taxpayer liability.
In letters and emails, the authority has threatened to take legal action against Feibush. Chrystie said the agency “is actively reviewing its options at this time.”
“They said we need to return it to the condition we found it in immediately,” Feibush said.
That shocks McGrath, who has lived in the neighborhood for four years.
“They liked it filled with garbage and broken glass?” she asked. “I can’t imagine why the city would be upset.”
Megan McArdle comments:
This does raise some interesting legal questions: does he have to put back the exact garbage that was there, or will any 40 tons of garbage do? Must the broken glass go back exactly where it was, or may it be arranged in decorative patterns for the beautificatoin of the neighborhood?
It also harkens back to an old policy problem: excessively rule-bound government frequently does stuff that makes perfect sense within the rules, but is also perfectly idiotic when viewed from any other perspectives. The more we expand liability, and the tighter we wind the red tape, the more foolish outcomes like this we will see.
Technically, I suppose the City does have a point about the Trespassing issue, but this strikes me as an example bureaucracy gone nuts. Feibush has apparently expressed interested in purchasing the lot several times, only to get no response at all from the City. That alone is bizarre because this lot is one of about 1,500 in the city that they are supposedly trying to sell, would any private property owner ignore an inquiry from someone interested in purchasing their property? I would think not. Moreover, if they wanted to sell the property, shouldn’t they be thanking Feibush for cleaning it up? After all, who wants to buy an abandoned lot filled with 40 tons of garbage?
Government at work, I suppose.