Remember the Point Breeze Pop Up?

The Computer Says “No”

Yesterday evening proprietor John Longacre through his attorney filed an emergency petition for supersedeas in the case of South Philly Tap Room vs. City of Phila [CP No. 150700872], hoping to secure a longer injunction.    This is because L&I has formally notified the court that’s it’s appealing Judge Nina Wright-Padilla’s temporary granting of an injunction to re-open the pop-up beer garden.

According to Longacre, the judge is on vacation.  Judge Carpenter picked this up and vacated the injunction (allowing L&I to close the beer garden again), and demanded both sides send in their motions over the petition by August 8th.

At the heart of all this is Longacre’s questioning of L&I’s authority to enforce the zoning code in the situations where anyone gets special event licenses from agencies like the Liquor Control Board.  Longacre believes that because he is rotating catering event licenses from the PLCB, that gives him complete immunity from the zoning code.

The PBPU is operating on land zoned RM-1 which has very little room for any commercial activity by-right.  Most special events that use liquor permits from the PLCB operate in public parks (SP-ENT) and industrial or commercially-zoned land where the use is already compatible.

All of this could have been avoided had Longacre applied for a change of use permit, a rather simple two-page form to kick off the zoning process.  Temporary or not, a variance request certainly involves a neighborhood meeting with a Registered Community Organization, something that Longacre preferred to opt-out of.   There would be no neighborhood input on the beer garden before it would open.

Of course by now, some of you who are party-pooped cry: “but… but… but… Longacre made a vacant lot beautiful!!!”   That he did.   He could have made it beautiful without putting a commercial business on land that wasn’t zoned for it and not filing the use permit.  “But… but… but…” you might cry, “Ori Feibush took over a city-owned lot!”  That Ori Feibush did, but Feibush did not change the use of the lot when he did so.  He cleaned the lot, landscaped it, put benches there and it’s basically a public side yard, which is a by-right use under every zoning category in the Philadelphia Code.

What’s really going on here is L&I is trying to get a final determination on a legal question that it’s perhaps been struggling with for far too long:  does a Harrisburg agency, through the permits it issues, imply that their permits supersede the zoning code?  It’s a real question.   If I managed to secure a special event liquor permit from the LCB for my RSA-5 zoned row-house, does that mean I can sell alcohol in my Mad Decent home without having to tell L&I about it?  According to a few authorities on the topic, the answer is yes.  If this was upsetting my neighbors, no-doubt political pressure would be put on L&I to do something.  If L&I has no power when the LCB says that an event can take place at a certain location, then L&I would have to butt-out. That’s ultimately where Longacre and L&I are in disagreement.

Pop-up beer gardens by their very nature already take advantage of loopholes in the state’s liquor code.  Some residents are also angry that they can open without the standard public input baggage that comes with normal use variances.   Certainly in the case of PBPU, there was only a public meeting after enough residents who didn’t get a say in the process were invited to a town hall by State Representative Jordan Harris after the garden opened.

My own opinion:  the zoning code is the zoning code.  If you are going to conduct activity that the zoning code says is verboten, then you must have permission from the City and adhere to its policy and procedure for getting that permission.   Longacre didn’t do any of that until enforcement came.   The Defense of Ignorance isn’t valid here, because Longacre is a real estate developer who files change of use permits with enough regularity, and he knew what his land was zoned for when he bought it from the survivors of the Point Breeze Performing Arts Center.

The other take-away from all this:  sometimes buying-off your City Councilperson doesn’t always exempt you from processes that others have to follow and get punished when they don’t.

Believe me, I’m crying oceans of tears over this.

SPTR vs. City of Phila -Order denying supersedes

PBPU – Emergency Petition for Supersedeas

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The signatures don't match
The signatures don’t match

Top picture is his last campaign finance report.  The page underneath is from his report filed at the beginning of last year.   The signatures don’t match.  I’m guessing someone is signing his name for him in front of a notary.

Yeah, that’s like a toooottally kosher thing to do.



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Kenyatta Johnson says he supports development.   But, does he?   Earlier this month, this event flyer was circulating around Point Breeze for a rally held this past Saturday:

One among many things that irk anti-development activists in Point Breeze is the neighborhood name of Newbold.

In prominent attendance was local anti-development activist Teresa McCormick as well as local politicians Kenyatta Johnson, State Rep. Jordan Harris and director of South Philly H.O.M.E.S. Claudia Sherrod, who is an affordable housing developer in Point Breeze and whose organization has primary zoning representation in Point Breeze.

What’s the beef and why the event?   Well, I think I’ve explained that one quite well.

One angle that’s often forgotten about and was just brought up this weekend is the hatred over the name Newbold.  In case you’ve never heard of Newbold, it’s a community that hugs the western side of South Broad Street and continues a few blocks in.    Here on the City of Philadelphia’s official map of registered community organizations, Newbold has two RCO’s:  Newbold Neighbors Association (website), and Newbold Civic (website).

Interestingly enough, both civic websites heavily feature residents and members picking up trash and cleaning up lots within their respective areas.

Parts of both RCO’s official territories overlap with South Philadelphia H.O.M.E.S., which is considered the official zoning voice over the area between Broad Street and Gray’s Ferry.

Newbold Neighbors Association (blue line)

Approximately 40 people were in attendance at the chilly morning rally, mostly infuriated over market-rate development and lack of affordable housing, with carefully-laced references to classism peppered throughout.    While the content of the oratory was banal, the overarching message was clear to those in attendance:  “We don’t like Newbold and think it must go away.”

Does that mean Kenyatta Johnson wants to see Newbold erased off the City Planning Commission maps and to have both civics decertified?    Only time can tell.

Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze, Philadelinquency has learned, has put in an application to become an RCO.   This could get interesting.

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