Lines drawn over proposed Subway on Baltimore Ave.

Posted on 21 December 2011

Marty Cabry of Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell’s office advises residents after the ZBA meeting today. The residents live near the storefront at 4533 Baltimore Ave., where a Subway restaurant is proposed.


The city Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) today postponed a decision on granting a takeout certificate to a proposed Subway at 4533 Baltimore Avenue to give the Garden Court Community Association, which borders the store’s location, a chance to review the proposal.

Several people who live near the storefront where the Subway is proposed attended the meeting at 1515 Arch St. and expressed concern about the increased traffic that would likely accompany the sandwich shop. Residents were led by Wilhelmina Herbert, president of the Garden Court Community Association, who lives nearby on S. 46th Street. She and other residents were concerned about the likelihood of increased traffic – from both customers as well as delivery and garbage trucks – along an alley that borders the rear of the store where neighborhood children often play.

“My issue is there is no parking,” Herbert told the ZBA.

Other residents – about 20 in all –  accompanied Herbert to the meeting. Many in attendance live on the west side of the 500 block of S. Melville and said they were not informed about a zoning meeting on the Subway proposal at the Spruce Hill Community Association (SHCA) earlier this month.

“Not one person from the 500 block of S. Melville was aware of [the meeting],” said Herbert.

The Spruce Hill Community Association today approved Subway’s application for a takeout certificate, which is required of all businesses that serve food, with stipulations that include the building a 6-foot high fence in back of the storefront to enclose the restaurant’s dumpster. The storefront, which is about 1,000 square feet, has the proper zoning and only the take-out certificate, which is usually a routine matter, is all that is needed for the business to open.

Much of the opposition at the Spruce Hill meeting was leveled at Subway because it was a chain, according to Barry Grossbach, who oversees zoning issues for the SHCA. A letter released a few hours before today’s meeting laid out the Association’s position (it is available in full below). In it, the SHCA zoning committee writes that the committee has no legal standing to reject the application simply because Subway is a chain.

“Spruce Hill has no authority to declare a corporate operator off limits no matter the feelings of individual committee members,” the letter states. “There is no stated policy about chain operators on Spruce Hill’s commercial corridors.”

The SHCA position includes stipulations about Subway’s use of the rear alley, lighting, painting and “general aesthetics.”

But nearby residents fear, once open, that Subway will not be able to control the traffic in the alley.

Ronald Patterson, the attorney representing Subway, tried to persuade Herbert to admit that the community opposition was really because Subway would be the first franchise restaurant on that part of Baltimore Avenue.

“You want to create a commercial avenue, this is what you get – you get higher-end tenants,” he said.

Herbet responded that she had “nothing against Subway.”

The Garden Court Community Association will have a meeting on the Subway proposal likely during the second week of January (the exact date is forthcoming). In the meantime, concerned residents can direct their concerns to the chair of the Zoning Board of Adjustments:

Lynette Brown-Sow
Chair, City of Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment
1401 John F. Kennedy Blvd. 11th Fl.
Philadelphia, PA 19102
The Spruce Hill Community Association position (pdf) SUBWAY ON BALTIMORE AVENUE

Spruce Hill Community Assocation – Proviso

27 Comments For This Post

  1. Tim Says:

    The meatball sub with cheese is usually decent. Everything else tastes too pre-fabricated to me. It’s like eating chemicals. The tuna gives me acid reflux.

  2. SK Says:

    I don’t understand why the community would rather have vacant storefronts than a {gasp} chain restaurant. As far as chains go, Subway is pretty innocuous. What business would the neighbors approve of that would not accept deliveries or increase traffic? Why, just because Subway is applying for a take-out license, is it assumed that there will be more cars trying to park? Is it not more likely that people will be walking there to pick up their take out? Don’t most of the restaurants in the neighborhood accept take-out orders?
    Those who oppose Subway are ensuring that Baltimore Ave remains run-down and full of empty storefronts.

  3. MVB Says:

    I agree with SK. Could not have said it better myself.

  4. SM Says:

    Is the proviso mentioned in SHCA’s letter available?
    I would be interested to see how what it has to say about use of the alley, lighting, trash, etc…

    As a resident of Melville St. our back alley would be affected by a Subway in the proposed location…

    I am opposed to corporate chains on Baltimore Ave in general, but I realize (sadly) that our community has little power in influencing who landlords rent to…Maybe we should start that conversation!

    In the meantime, though, I am opposed to a take-out at this location…
    Of course a take-out place is going to increase traffic into our alley – people who live in walking distance already have a choice of about 8 locally-owned hoagie places…and many are loyal customers to those. A chain hoagie joint will appeal mostly to those passing through…and since parking on baltimore is limited it seems likely to me that people will end up double parking on Baltimore (aka, blocking trolleys) or just pulling into to alley. If this location were a retail store perhaps people would take a moment to find a legal parking spot…but if you’re just hopping out to grab a hoagie I’m sure people will be inclined to just duck into the alley for a moment (tell the truth, wouldn’t you?)…So that means increased traffic into the alley.

    And here’s the problem with that: the neighbors of that alley are the ones responsible for maintenance and upkeep of that area. So that means we will be the ones picking up the wrappers and trash…and eventually we will be the ones dealing with the increased wear-and-tear on the alley (apparently re-paving costs tens of thousands of dollars)…

    And more importantly (to me, anyway) is that increased traffic into the alley means that it will no longer be a safe place for our children to play. There are at least a dozen families on Melville and 46th whose kids ride bikes and play in relative safety in this alley…if people are zipping through those kids have lost their outdoor space…

    I’m pretty sure there are more choices in the world than subway or vacant space…

  5. Sherry W Says:

    Any popular retail location will likely increase traffic in the back alley. There used to be a small grocery there, and people double parked all the time. I suppose we will have to put Subway on speed dial. When we see people parking there, give them about 15 different phone calls to tell them to get the customers to move.

  6. Robyn Says:

    I do not support Subway because it is a corporate chain. It is now the world’s largest chain restaurant. The smell of their fake bread turns my stomach from a block away. The smell alone is a nusiance. It will increase traffic and congestion. There are already quite a few mom & pop sandwich stores in the neighborhood that should be supported. There are many reasons to oppose this monstrocity in our neighborhood.

  7. A McAllister Says:

    I think what Sherry has pointed out is important. Any successful business would increase traffic/parking in the immediate area, and since that property is commercially zoned I don’t really see how the argument against a popular business being there holds any weight. Perhaps the neighbors on S. Melville could get permission from the city to install poles that block the entryway to the alley from Baltimore Ave, allowing cars to enter only from Larchwood to maintain the family-friendly atmosphere.

    I would really like to know if there is any possibility of effecting change in the zoning of Baltimore Ave to prevent future chains from moving in. I know that other communities have written in bylaws that protect local businesses and it seems like it should be possible in this instance as well. Anyone have info?

  8. Mike Lyons Says:

    @SM We added the proviso this morning as an embedded document that you can read along with the story.

  9. HighStrungLoner Says:

    White people’s problems.

  10. Robyn Says:

    Everybody’s problem.

  11. Steve Says:

    Hi all, I’ve been watching this unfold for quite some time now. I’m a resident who has lived in the neighborhood for the better part of the last decade, and currently live around the corner(45th & Springfield) from this perpetually vacant storefront. I just want to add my 2 cents into this. I find myself on the fence in regards to Subway filling this store. On the one hand – as many of you have stressed – I love the fact that from 42nd-50th, Baltimore Ave is as diverse as the neighborhood itself. And has SO MANY fine places to eat – even for takeout. Will I ever patronize a Subway in my neighborhood? Nope. And honestly, I doubt any of you will either.
    On the other hand…it’s quite sad that a business can’t thrive in this one particular spot. Having vacant storefronts(and the lack of people around) is a detriment to the overall safety, AND the aesthetics of our beautiful neighborhood. So…if anything can fill this store and can last for more than a few months at a time..I’m pretty excited about that prospect.
    The one thing I wonder about, as I have read about this ongoing saga for a while now…is why almost everyone here is adamantly opposed to a store opening that they’ll likely never patronize while we have Fu-Wah and M&H making delicious sandwiches instead? Is it too simplistic to think that a Subway here would never make the kind of money necessary to sustain itself in that location? Who do you think is actually going to come and patronize this place? Penn kids? Doubtful. USP kids? Perhaps. Our own neighbors? I’d be willing to bet nobody on this site, or most anyone in the neighborhood, would be willing to sacrifice their devotion to our local stores to save a dollar or 2 to eat subpar food.
    Don’t you think this Subway, even if it does open, would end up being a temporary nuisance in an otherwise growing neighborhood of local businesses and places to eat?

  12. Karena Thurston Says:

    A McAllister: you bring up great points. There is a process for communities to create zoning overlays to influence development. I encourage all concerned or interested neighbors to start a discussion about zoning overlays with the Spruce Hill and Cedar Park community associations if you are concerned about the future of chains along Baltimore Avenue.

    Another thing I encourage immediate residents (those who share the alley) to pursue is looking into the zoning provisions of that alley to see what you can do to discourage traffic. Some ideas that decrease vehicular traffic: Decrease the width of the alley by installing planters, sidewalks, or garden areas. Re-surface the entrances to the alley (@ Cedar/Baltimore & Larchwood) with cobblestone or brick – this method also has higher visibility that the alley is private, and drivers try to avoid rough surfaces like cobblestone. Along these same lines, decrease the width of the entrances to the alley to be the minimum for a one car passage, in addition to re-surfacing, to increase the privacy aspect. Tear up the pavement and install grass pavers (looks like grass but can can withstand the traffic of residents accessing their carports). Of course, I acknowledge these measures are costly and the immediate residents would have to pay for them. It’s unfortunate that SPCA quietly gave Subway a permit without alerting residents, because it’s possible that they could have required Subway to partially subsidize narrowing/re-paving the alley entrance at Cedar/Baltimore Ave after hearing residents’ concerns. (I am not sure what the legal process for this would have been, but I believe there could have been stipulations required, similarly to the requirement for the 6′ fence around the dumpster). The neighborhood could also likely work with SHCA to obtain funding to implement these measures. I recognize these ideas don’t solve the bigger problem, but they could lessen the feared impact.

    As a side: the previous 2 businesses that were at that location went out of business, and the last was only around for a few months before closing its doors. I’m not why this happened, but maybe it signals that location is not a profitable retail location, or rent is too high, or there were possibly problems with the landlord among other things. I encourage everyone in the neighborhood who doesn’t want the Subway not to solicit their business! Maybe it will end up that it is not profitable just for passers-by.

    As Mahatma Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”


  13. Gary Says:

    Regarding whether businesses can be successful at this spot, the African market was successful and only moved out after a dispute with the landlord. They did not want to leave. (The details of the dispute are not clear.)

    When the African market first opened, there were serious problems with their patrons (among others) parking in the driveway and blocking it. Over time, these problems became much less serious, as they educated their patrons. By the time they left, the problem was not serious.

    Any narrowing of the driveway or restricting access would have to allow the city trash and recycle trucks to move through the driveway. Repaving the whole driveway is not practical.

    The sort of take-out involved in a fast-food sandwich shop is not really comparable to existing take-out operations. Milk and Honey is a grocery store/deli that has some take-out; Fiesta has seating, they deliver, and have take-out; Desi Village seems to have more dine-in than take-out. The added car traffic would affect not only the private driveway, but also double-parking on Balto Ave.

    Finally, it is very odd that Spruce Hill did not contact its members who live w/in 500 feet of the property, or formally approach Garden Court Comm Assoc, since the boundaries of the two groups overlap here. On other cases in the area between 45th and 46th Streets, the two Associations have cooperated.

  14. Crime Hot Spot in the Making Says:

    yes, by all means, do just like they did on 40th Street and load Baltimore up with chains that attract youths who will hang out all hours of the day and night, and we can create a brand new crime spot in West Phil to draw some of it away from 40th & Walnut! Brilliant. Local stores reduce crime and enhance neighborliness: they get to know and care about their neighbors and the area. Chains don’t give a rat’s behind about neighbors. All they care about is money, centralized management. Seattle was able for the most part to avoid chains; West Phil should do the same. They are bad for neighborhoods. They are good for malls.

  15. 46er Says:

    I don’t see how someone can get away of double parking on Baltimore without blocking the trolleys. I also disagree that chains have to be bad and local stores are always good. There are few chains managed by their local owners in the U City are actually quite professional, while their food I agree is boring. There are also local stores which don’t give a blip about the neighborhood.

    I am wondering how people would response if Geno or Pat is opening a store at that place? It is not a national chain, and it will be managed by locals, but it will also attract people from other neighborhoods.

    Keep in mind this is a neighborhood supported by colleges, without them, this stretch of Baltimore would be no better than the ones few blocks down the road. Would you rather the college students spending their money here or some where else? I encourage you spend a lunch time at Penn’s Common where there is a Subway and some other choices, and see where majority of college students buy their lunch.

  16. Laura Says:

    Hoagie aroma. gross

  17. Anon Says:

    The Commons is not a good comparison because it takes the Penn Dining Dollars for those on the meal plan which freshmen are required to be on. The suggestion that Penn students are happily spending their money at the Subway there is laughable as it has the worst “town and gown” relationship of all the places on campus. Order a sandwich and then basically be forced to watch the employees destroy it as they make it. (I realize some will suggest Penn students deserve destroyed sandwiches but they’re not all brats!) The assumption that students living off campus in the area will spend their own (not Dining Dollars) money on a Subway on Baltimore is not such a sure bet.

  18. mowfaux Says:

    46er, they would double park on Cedar Avenue, where it branches off of Baltimore Ave.

  19. 46er Says:

    Yes, I can agree they would double park Cedar Avenue or any side streets instead.
    All I was trying to state is there are Penn students who would pick Subway over other choices such as all other food trucks on 38th. We should also use the Subway on Market and 43th to argue for or against the case on Baltimore. I personally don’t want a Subway on Baltimore, but I just felt some of arguments against it are silly.

  20. mowfaux Says:


  21. 46th Says:

    Someone explain to me this “gross hoagie aroma” and the other hate of Subway food. It’s bread, cold cuts, etc. As it’s been pointed out ad nasuem, it’s not much different or over processed then what the apparently precious local dumps like Lees and Fiesta sells. Probably not much different then what Milk and Honey overcharges for. Plus frankly, it’s not going to stink any more then Indian food fry oil in the summer and PBR and piss from the all-local places on that block now.

    A Subway open 9-10pm attracting crime? Please.

    I’d also prefer a local store, really I would. I get the parking and traffic concern. The over-reaction to this one restaurant is WAY over the top.

  22. Franklin Says:

    Most of the people who see no problem with this store opening up don’t live anywhere near it. As one who lives VERY close to the location, I am expecting increased traffic, less parking spots, illegal parking, lots of trash, and people getting takeout and sitting on my steps or other nearby steps. Why? Because that is what happens when a takeout place opens and they have nowhere for people to sit and eat their food.

    Comparisons to local shops is not fair because the local shops, for the most part, have inside seating and in some cases outside seating. My biggest complaint about this being a franchise is that the franchisee is from out of state.

    Once this place is open, there is nothing that will be done about your complaints. Car blocking the street? By the time the cops get there it will probably be gone. People littering? Sitting on your porch? Noise? Whatever? Be prepared to deal with it. The landlord won’t do squat other than cash those checks. And a year from now–or less–when they leave because they are not making enough money, we will be glad to see it go.

    And for the people “surprised” by the opposition, what would you do if it moved in next door to you? Deal with it? I doubt it.

  23. Anon Says:

    There will be indoor seating as it is not takeout only, which shows just how much you’ve really been paying attention, Franklin. Also you live near a commercial-residential corridor and your complaints go with the territory. I’m always perturbed by people who live in this area, particularly near commercial corridors and somehow expect a gated community experience.

  24. Sean Dorn Says:

    Philadelphia does not zone on chains or not chains – period. If you would like to change the law in this regard you should ask City Council to change the law. To abuse the existing law to deny zoning in just this one case is basically chucking due process (the idea that laws are applied to everyone the same) out the window. Basically by asking the ZBA to make up new rules that did not apply for previous tenants (who sold prepared food to go, BTW) is no different than “Christian” groups that want bend zoning laws to block mosques. I don’t like chains and try not to patronize them generally but people who would stomp on others rights and choose for the equal application of the law to be reduced to whoever can shout in Jannie Blackwell’s ear the loudest need to stop and think about unintended consequences of trashing other people’s rights.

    You know many of us would welcome a franchise owner who wanted to invest down the street on the 5000 block of Baltimore and beyond because for a lot of Baltimore Ave. and West Phila generally it is still pretty much a food desert for anything that doesn’t come out of a deep fryer, sad but true.

  25. Sean Dorn Says:

    It kind of seems like people don’t understand what zoning is. Zonning is to determine if a type of use is appropriate for a general area or if it will impinge unduely on the neighborhing community. People who keep saying “we already have sandwich places” are ironically emphasizing the fact that yes indeed, sandwich shops do already coexist with the neighborhood just fine and really its a huge stretch to argue that there is a substantive difference nutritionally or in terms of likely traffic that already exists from Lee’s or Fiesta. You zone against someone putting a copper smelt next to a daycare but its hypocritical to say one sandwich shop is dramatically different from another. They aren’t.

    Again I don’t choose to patronize chains whenever I can but I have a problem with people who decide its up to them to legislate what choices are available for others – which a lot in this thread seem to want to do. Who exactly made you the boss of every other resident in the neighborhood to decide what kind sandwich they will or won’t be allowed to eat?

    Zoning is not there to make city government responsible for micromanaging every person who decides to open a business so only the types of businesses you personally like to patronize are allowed to open. For all the folks who say Baltimore Ave. can do better – do it – open your own damn business and see how easy/hard it is for yourself.

  26. 46er Says:

    So Franklin, since I live locally, if I want to open a McD at that location, I would have your vote then, right?

  27. Franklin Says:

    Sean–I understand what you are saying and I understand zoning but hey, they asked for our input and we are giving it. The fact that they are reaching out to the neighbors is encouraging but keep in mind that this is after they already signed a 3-year lease. This shop brings to light what may be the core issue and that is–maybe the zoning for that type of use is not appropriate. We all understand that while it is zoned that way, it may legally be used that way. But this is a case where the opinion of the neighborhood was requested and they gave it. The concerns are legit–the shop is new so people want their opinions heard. Opinions, Sean. I’m not anyone’s boss. Not about whether we could legally stop them but if our voice is being taken into account then why not say everything we can say. Given the option, would you have a Subway move in next door to your shop? Would that opinion change if if was your home instead? It may, in the end, be a non-issue for the neighborhood. It may even be good for the neighborhood. There are more examples of the former that come to mind than the latter.

    46er–it would make it a lot easier to stomach if we knew that the person was easily approached and local, yes. Would I still be opposed (opinion-wise) to a chain? Sure I would, but it does add to the fear that many have that it’s an out of state owner.

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