September 19, 2012
Bad Government

Eric Pfeiffer reports that a local businessman in Philadelphia may face legal action as a result of spending $20,000 of his own money to clean up a vacant lot that the City refused to clean:

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.

 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."

To be fair to the city, the issue of liability is a legitimate concern:

"Like any property owner, [the city] 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."

Yet this is something that can easily be taken care of by getting the developer to sign a liability waiver, accompanied by any number of additional legal tools that could serve to limit the city’s potential liability (e.g. indemnification agreements, creative temporary title conveyances, etc.).  There are multiple legal instruments that could limit the city’s liability and still let this man clean up the garbage.

This sort of conflict between members of the community and local government doesn’t have to exist.  Liability is a legitimate concern, but there are multiple ways that the city can work around that issue.  It’s hard to argue that the developer wasn’t doing everyone a favor by cleaning up the vacant lot.  If anything, he increased the value of the property, and by extension, increased the value of properties nearby; meaning the city gets the benefit of higher tax assessments!  This is just bad government, virtually any way you slice it.

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