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City Council President Darrell Clarke Accused Of Influencing ZBA To Delay Multifamily Development

Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke speaks at the press conference announcing Chubb's new Philadelphia office on Dec. 16, 2022.

As Darrell Clarke approaches the end of his tenure as the most powerful man on the Philadelphia City Council, he stands accused of abusing that power to stifle development.

Ori Feibush, founder of OCF Realty, has filed suit against Clarke for more than $2M in damages, claiming that the latter improperly used his political influence to delay Feibush's apartment building at 1201 West Girard Ave., the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The damages amount to the increase in construction costs Feibush incurred as a result of the delay.

After Feibush was granted permits to build a four-story, 166-unit building on the site, Clarke appealed to the Zoning Board of Adjustment, which convened a hearing June 9, 2021, despite the fact that Feibush's project fit with the existing zoning, the Inquirer reports.

That same month, Clarke pushed through an overlay bill rezoning a stretch of West Girard that included Feibush's property to allow only three-story buildings or shorter in a move that baffled developers at the time. Clarke's stated goal for the bill was the same as his attempt to block Feibush's development, the Inquirer reports: protecting the low-density, majority Black neighborhood of Yorktown sitting just north of West Girard and east of Broad Street.

Clarke personally called former City Councilmember and then-ZBA Chair Frank DiCicco in the middle of the hearing, DiCicco confirmed to the Inquirer. Per the lawsuit, Clarke sought to intimidate the ZBA into rejecting Feibush's project.

Though the city of Philadelphia's Law Department, which is also representing Clarke in Feibush's lawsuit, acknowledged there was no legal basis for a zoning challenge, the ZBA ruled in Clarke's favor, the Inquirer reports. 

“Sometimes when the board hears from an elected official who’s representing the people, [the ZBA] — myself included at times — lose sight of that,” DiCicco told the Inquirer.

The ZBA reversed its own decision after Feibush filed an appeal for reconsideration, but not for another four months — a delay Feibush also attributed to Clarke's influence in his lawsuit. DiCicco recused himself from the follow-up hearing because he had directly communicated with Clarke about the project, the Inquirer reports.

Clarke then appealed the ZBA's second decision to the Court of Common Pleas, which found in Feibush's favor, but not until October 2022. Feibush completed the building earlier this year.

Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit — for which no court date has been set — Clarke used his time at the head of Philadelphia City Council to consolidate the body's legal power over the ZBA and land use in the city

Clarke's powerful consensus-building and embrace of the councilmanic prerogative tradition are among the legacies he will leave when he retires at the end of the upcoming fall council session. Clarke did not seek re-election in the May primary for his seat, kicking off a months-long backroom campaign among incumbent members of council to replace him as president that has yet to be resolved.