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Dear Neighbors and Friends,
On Monday, October 15, at 7pm at Shiloh Baptist Church, SOSNA is hosting our zoning meeting at which OCF Realty will present its plans for 2201 Washington Ave and SOSNA community members will vote on the project.
Come to listen, learn, and vote. Your voice and vote matter, no matter whether you support or oppose the project, or have yet to make up your mind.
SOSNA has presented OCF with a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) for the project. The CBA captures community input and seeks to engage OCF in a community-driven design process in order to come up with a project that as much as possible addresses the wants and needs of all our neighborhood residents.
OCF has refused to even begin a dialogue, has declined to enter a good-faith negotiation on the content of the CBA, and has stated that it will not enter into a CBA regardless of the CBA’s content.
Many people have wondered why SOSNA is making such asks, and in a legally binding document. SOSNA is only asking for things that have been expressed by our neighbors. We acknowledge that our initial CBA draft was ambitious in an effort to start a conversation (consider: when you bought your house, did you offer less than you wanted to pay in order to get a price you were comfortable paying?). SOSNA’s invitation to OCF to engage in a productive discussion and find a compromise remains open.
One thing to keep in mind, too, is that SOSNA is doing our best to learn and do as well as we can in new territory. This process moves very, very quickly, and we have to meet deadlines mandated by the City. Have we handled this situation perfectly? Probably not. But I’m proud of the seriousness and care with which SOSNA is handling a difficult process and a large-scale project of this importance. Moving forward as an organization, SOSNA will continue to seek the community’s input and learn from its experiences so that SOSNA can be the most effective representative possible (if imperfect) for the community.
However, OCF and some members of the community are accusing SOSNA of being obstructionist and fighting development. One look at the growth in our neighborhood over the last 20 years clearly indicates that SOSNA supports development. Furthermore, SOSNA wants a vibrant Washington Ave and we believe it’s possible to achieve this goal while designing large-scale projects guided by feedback from our neighbors. To this end, SOSNA has been actively engaged in discussions with community stakeholders throughout 2018 regarding the future of Washington Ave.
Now, after 20 years of growth, we’re at the point at which we’re no longer desperate for investment. As a neighborhood, we must ask developers of large-scale projects to work with our community to design projects that do more than put any-old-building on an empty lot and provide desirable amenities. There’s a path where we can come together to get projects built while striving for equitable development. It’s not an either-or, zero-sum game. Developers can make a profit and we as a community can advocate for all voices, including those lower-income and historically-disadvantaged members of the SOSNA community.
We do not believe that a project of this size and at such an important location should be simply a place for the affluent. This project has the potential to provide some number of affordable and workforce housing units to contribute toward a mixed-income neighborhood, and has enough retail space to ensure that we provide sustainable jobs and opportunities for wealth-creation by advocating for minority- and women-owned businesses and community-based hiring.
We also want to make Washington Ave safer, cleaner, greener, and more pedestrian- and bike-friendly. We thank OCF for already addressing some of these features and look forward to continuing to work together toward an awesome design.
This work is undoubtedly challenging but full of exciting possibility. Accordingly, SOSNA presented the CBA with the idea that we could work with OCF, our elected officials, our business and nonprofit partners, and our residents to find creative ways to brings to life a great project that is designed for all our residents. We recognize that we cannot receive everything on the list, but we also maintain that we can walk through the options and trade-offs with OCF (again, something OCF has flatly said “no” to doing). We also believe that it is not enough for the community to rely on promises from a developer – promises that can be broken without consequence and that are not binding on any future purchaser of the property – which is why we have asked OCF to sign a CBA, a recognized approach for situations just like these.
I want to finish with the following. Mr. Ori Feibush, owner of OCF Realty, has blamed me personally for turning SOSNA and the community against him, thus jeopardizing the project. First, I’m flattered Mr. Feibush thinks I’m so powerful and persuasive when I’m neither that powerful nor that persuasive – I’m merely one of a board of 15 volunteers who are doing what they can to make the SOSNA neighborhood a better place to live and work for all members of the community.
Second, I’m glad Mr. Feibush is blaming me for what his finger-point represents. I’m glad to be standing up for a community-driven design process. I’m glad to be standing up for mixed-income neighborhoods. I’m glad to be standing up for providing our residents with access and opportunity. I’m glad to be standing up for sustainable jobs and wealth-creation. I’m glad to be standing up for the best possible design over a great-but-not-yet-amazing design. I’m glad to be standing up for all neighbors, for diversity and inclusion, for a neighborhood for all, for a shared future.
I’m glad to take the blame each and every time I stand up for the voices of all our neighbors – long-term residents and newcomers, older and younger, lower-income and affluent. And I’m glad to take the blame when I stand up for what is the right thing to do.
If you want to have your voice heard, I hope to see you on October 15th.
Chair of the Board of Directors,
South of South Neighborhood Association (SOSNA)