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Zoning board denies plans for Subway restaurant on Baltimore Ave

Posted on 19 January 2012

Storefront at 4533 Baltimore Ave.

Plans for a Subway restaurant near 46th and Baltimore are in serious jeopardy. The Zoning Board of Adjustment recently rejected a takeout certificate to an out-of-town franchise owner.

The franchise owner, who proposed a Subway location at 4533 Baltimore Ave., has 30 days to appeal the decision, which was handed down on Jan. 11.

Several community members and nearby residents protested the proposed restaurant, saying the increased traffic would affect properties adjacent to the proposed location.

Wilhelmina Herbert, president of the Garden Court Community Association, recently sent a letter notifying nearby residents of the decision and praising them for speaking out against the plans.

“Without community support this would not have been possible,” she wrote in a letter dated Jan. 18. “We have shown that we can come together to ensure the safety of our children, to protect our properties, and for the overall good of our neighborhood.  Our voices have been heard!”

The Subway franchisee’s application for a takeout certificate, which is required for any restaurant, was originally approved by the Spruce Hill Community Association in a December meeting. Herbert and others, many of whom said they were never notified of that meeting, asked that the ZBA postpone a decision in December to give them time to discuss the proposal.

Many residents who commented on neighborhood e-mail lists and an earlier story here opposed the Subway because it would have been the only chain restaurant among several locally owned businesses in that area of Baltimore Avenue. But residents who lived near the proposed locations, which has been home to several short-lived businesses in recent years, insisted that their primary concern was increased traffic.

45 Comments For This Post

  1. S. Duggan Says:

    As a resident who lives near the location I appreicate your final sentance. The bigger question for many of us is,or should be,not if it is a national franchise vs. a locally owned business but if the space will be filled with a business that is ready,able and willing to address the issues of alley access, increased traffic down the alley, safety of children who play in/near the alley and trash generated by the business. That is not to say the type of business shouldn’t be considered but many of the larger issues are true for anything that is going to go in that space and be successful there.

  2. C. Randall Says:

    I’m sorry, but this is outrageous. The “safety of our children”? “increased traffic”? A sandwich shop is dangerous to children how? because it’s 12 feet closer to an alley than the next business over? Because Subway patrons apparently drive miles out of their way to get sandwiches, and then speed away down an alley? Baltimore Avenue draws the vast majority of its customers from a walkable radius. I’ll concede that people might drive to destination stores, but Subway does not exactly qualify. If people drove to patronize the avenue’s business as this doomsday scenario implies, we’d be in a constant state of gridlock, and we are obviously not. The idea that the adjacent alley would become a high volume speedway for car-driving subway fanatics is ludicrous. And as for trash and other daily concerns, Subway generates as much trash as any restaurant or take-out store on the avenue. The only traffic this place will generate is more pedestrian traffic, which is exactly what we need for community surveillance and to attract more businesses so that our community is even more walkable and full-service. Yes, I just said I wanted more businesses closer to my home.

  3. S Wein Says:

    Baltimore Ave is one of the only places I’ve EVER been where there were so many local businesses vs chains, and with them the accompanying sense of community and place. I’m glad as hell the Subway won’t go in, even if the official reason is likely an excuse (you’ll note previous restaurants located there had managed to get permits).

    If you want a Subway sandwich, go to the REST OF THE UNITED STATES, not Baltimore Ave.

  4. Travelgirl Says:

    Thank you C. Randall for saying everything I would have said. The gentrification police are out of control on this one.

  5. Daniel Tomasso Says:

    Anytime I hear “for the children’s” safety/sake/health I have to laugh as anyone knows that is just bullshit code.
    This is West Philadelphia. A neighborhood in Philadelphia. Please remember that.
    All these oddly named associations (Garden Court? Spruce Hill? C’mon!)seem to forget that they are protesting a store on Baltimore Avenue.
    Is the gas-station organic? I’ve seen cars there. At all hours of day and night. What about the children? There is a bar on Baltimore. Children might walk right by it! They serve booze there! Booze, children! Booze.
    I once saw a homeless man. Can you believe it? He was bumming smokes. In front of children!
    I pray these children realize that they did not grow up in a city environment. I pray they see their awful parents turned West Philly into Spruce Hill. I pray they and their parents aren’t eaten alive once they walk three blocks
    in any direction.
    I can’t wait to see the moving vans in five years when these morons realize you can’t keep the City out.

  6. Bonta Says:

    Just because we choose to raise our children in the city, doesn’t mean we have to welcome traffic into our privately-owned lane. Subway folks admitted that they didn’t realize that the adjacent lane was private. They were originally planning to put dumpsters there. I don’t think many people would welcome a high-volume carry-out business at the end of their driveway — especially if the driveway could easily be turned into a thoroughfare.

  7. MJC Says:

    Alert! Alert ! Alert ! Stores on Baltimore Ave. may make Sandwiches. People might support them with their $$$! Oops, no the hypocrites and douche brigade have made it so one of their neighbors can’t open a franchise since they would not deign to shop there. Vote with your dollars and leave the small business operator to fail or succeed. If anyone disagrees, do more research on Subway’s franchise practices and the opportunities they afford people to own and operate a small business. Grow Up.

  8. suzanne Says:

    well, i’m kind of bummed. empty stores are a drag. i like sandwiches and would have been a subway customer, probably. it seems like there was an opportunity for compromise here and instead a business was mao-mao’d by some folks not willing to do so. what’s gong to happen now?

  9. EJM Says:

    YAY! Another empty storefront in a crap economy! Thank goodness the Children will be safe. The code language here is really think.

    Do all of you Anti-Subway people think that Sysco trucks aren’t backing up to Gojjo’s, fu-Wah, or Dahlak every day? The only truly Local and Organic shops on Baltimore are the Mariposa Coop and Milk Honey, neither of which really provides any kind of Food Justice to the neighbor with stringent customer codes (Mariposa) and high prices (M&H).

    But thank goodness someone was thinking of the Children. Enjoy your empty storefront.

  10. RJ Says:

    WTF? Do we live in a major city or what? I’d like a sandwich now and then. Good Lord.

  11. J. Says:

    Mariposa will be open to anyone in their new large space on the 4800 block of Baltimore, with no customer codes, in three weeks.

  12. EJM Says:

    J. – That bit of news is wonderful. I’ve seen the videos Bull put up on Mariposa’s site. The place looks great. I’m really happy to hear that it will be open to the public. Thanks for update!

  13. Jean Says:

    is it really a matter of traffic or aesthetics? i wouldn’t want a big subway sign anywhere near my house.

  14. Missy Says:

    Looks like a strike of the literal “not in my back yard” phobes.

  15. Sim Jonathan Says:

    Tell Subway to putting the store next to your location. You cannot blame the people who live there because they dont want a chain store next to their house. There are many storefronts in West Phila let Subway move there. We should stop calling people racists because they dont want the store there. Answer this–do you want Subway next to your house? If so contact them and invite them to look at your block. The zoning board made their decision based on more than just a few people trust me.

  16. Ghana Dave Says:

    I am new to this area. There seems to be much complaining about nothing. I live right near that empty store and would welcome ANY franchise there. I have to agree mostly with Daniel above, although the sarcasm is a bit much. City children all over the world are smarter! To the genlemen above, where is the racism? Thank you.

  17. Elaine Says:

    I agree with Suzanne. And how long will the storefront remain empty now?

  18. Kristen Says:

    This is so exciting! Anybody interested in a hardware store, craft/art supply shop? So many possibilities! Let’s bring it.

  19. suzanne Says:

    when my kids were little and i was nursing i often thought how great it would be to have a store in uni city that had nursing supplies, a room for meetings, cool infant toys…cloth diapering supplies……i wonder if the community could support such a business……..

  20. GroJLart Says:

    Denying a business opening in a bad economy in a long-empty storefront? What a bunch of snobs. Good luck holding out for that Organic Sustainable Craft Underwear for Puppies Shop. There’s like 4 Subways within walking distance of my house… I don’t mind them because otherwise they’d be empty storefronts and I understand and accept that there are people who want to eat there.

    What the hell are you all afraid of? Sounds like bigotry to me. You just don’t want whatever kind of people you assume patronize Subway coming through your neighborhood.

  21. E.L. Says:

    Having a hardware store in the immediate area would be great. We could actually use a hardware store around here. We’ve got enough restaurants as it is.

    And for those making accusations of racism and bigotry, they’ve already stated they do not want their private drive filled with dumpsters and delivery trucks, something Subway was planning on using the drive for. Not wanting dumpsters on their private property is a legitimate desire.

  22. suzanne Says:

    i agree a hardware store is a good idea. there was some talk about a garden center being built at 51 and baltimore, which is a much bigger location.

  23. Lisa Marie Says:

    We actually do have a hardware store in our neighborhood–Monarch Hardware on Walnut Street by 45th. The people there are very friendly.

  24. Kelly P. Says:

    Who’s really the culprit here when it comes to that empty storefront? Have we forgotten that the owners of that building charge an exorbitant rent that discourages smaller businesses from opening? It would take an enormous amount of overhead for businesses without the connections of a Subway franchise to open and sustain themselves in that location. I don’t know how the rent there compares to the surrounding buildings, but there is obviously something amiss if other start-ups have been able to be successful on Baltimore and that storefront remains problematic.

  25. Leland Says:

    Also for hardware don’t forget Woodland Building Supply at 47th & Woodland. Between them and Monarch there is little reason to visit a big box.

  26. Innocence lost Says:

    Protect the children!
    My three year old was once accosted by a 12″ BLT sandwich near a Subway shop in Center City. Now she is afraid of both breakfast meats and can no longer eat gluten.

    Save our kids from this aromatic but unsavory behavior!

  27. suzanne Says:

    if you’re on foot, the 2 hardware store in the area aren’t convenient. 47 and woodland is pretty remote without a car and since we live at 49 and baltimore, 45 and walnut is too far to walk most of the time.

    a really BIG reason to shop at lowes or home depot is price. i have to count every penny and monarch just can’t compete with their prices most of the time. that being said, if monarch was at 45 and baltimore, i’d prob get the odd hardware item there instead of elsewhere. so, i DO think this end of uni city could support a hardware store. i wish jackson hadn’t closed down
    (4900 block of baltimore.) i used them a lot, back in the day.

  28. Brendan Says:

    I am hardly a laissez-faire capitalist but I do not understand everyone’s opposition to a Subway francise opening in our neighborhood. It seems everyone is against it because Subway is a chain. So what? They’re operated by independent franchise owners. They specialize in reasonably priced, good quality fast food. They offer a menu of sandwichs with less than 7 grams of fat. What is the problem if they are allowed to operate in our neighborhood? If you want a chic sandwich you are free to continue going to Milk & Honey. If you want “low end” non-chain deli sandwich you have Best House, Fiesta Pizza, Fu-Wah, and many other options. I just think this is rather mis-guided to deny a business the right to operate because it falls under the artificial distinction of being a chain store.

  29. EJM Says:

    So it’s acceptable for residents to sell their homes for exorbitant amounts (ostensibly pricing out young families), but it’s not okay for landlords to charge market-rate rents in a high traffic corridor? You can’t have it both ways. Your homes are worth more today than they were 10 years ago. This means that retail space is worth more.

    Oh right. I forgot. This is West Philly. No math, logic, or Capitalism allow. Unless it helps those who give the neighborhood that desired “flavor.” Who are those people again?

  30. Kelly P. Says:

    Renting and selling are entirely different animals. People sell their homes for higher rates to get a return on them. People rent their properties to earn money from them. If this location has managed to stay vacant for this long with such a high price tag, the owners obviously aren’t scrounging to make back their investment. The high cost must be intentionally discouraging.

  31. Anon Says:

    HAH! I’ve figured it out – the landlord was running an excellent scam: jack the rent up to $2,200/month so much that only inexperienced business owners with no idea what they’re doing would sign the lease. After a couple months, the business shutters violating the lease but has more than paid the landlord’s mortgage for the year (property bought for $45K) and the landlord doesn’t have to deal with 1st floor tenants or pay much in utilities until the next sucker comes along. Subway was going to call their bluff but the community put an end to that!

    And you know what? Even if this preposterous scenario is the case, IT’S NONE OF ANYONE’S BUSINESS OTHER THAN THE LANDLORD. If you want to dictate rents on Baltimore Avenue then buy property on Baltimore Avenue. Not enough funds on your own? Pool money together with other neighbors and community members until you have enough for a little house of “local only” at whatever price you all decide.

  32. Philly Bud Says:

    NIMBY-ism has triumphed again!

    So we will continue to have empty stores on Baltimore Ave. because someone who lives 5 blocks away doesn’t want that kind of business situated there.

  33. Ross Says:

    One of the ways Seattle managed to hold onto real neighborhoods, not premasticated chains everywhere one turned, was that they resisted chain stores. As one of the first posters wrote, if you want chain stores, visit the entire remainder of the US: including, now, sadly, New York. The only way Philadelphia is going to remain a city of neighborhoods is by keeping big box stores and chains out. Building and sustaining a community like ours takes sense and patience. Better to have good sandwiches made by a local owner who knows and cares about us, than a chain stuffing whatever sugars and grease they can down our children’s, and our, throats. One other thing: Spruce Hill Community Association needs to check in with immediate neighbors of an enterprise before putting their rubber stamp on any business that comes along. While commercial growth is welcome, let’s do it thoughtfully and with something at least approaching consensus. West Philadelphia is a remarkable place, known for its small, inexpensive, ethnic restaurants and terrific cafes. Let’s not turn it into a cheesy version of Everytown. And really, let’s not sell our souls for a freaking subway sandwich (anyone ever had one? they’re disgusting).

  34. Josh Says:

    I’ve lived on Baltimore Ave for a few years now and have seen plenty of local businesses fail. I love the aesthetic of our neighborhood as much as the next guy, but a gaping whole in a row businesses on our version of main street isn’t exactly making the place more inviting. The person who was going to open the Subway was buying into a franchise. Do we hate people for wanting to start businesses now?

    With so many other options in the neighborhood why were people so scared of a Subway? Don’t like it? Go to M&H, Lee’s, Pasqualli’s or wherever else you want. And get over yourselves. It’s Baltimore Ave not the Main Line.

  35. Schnarf P. Butkiss Says:

    I think it’s worth distinguishing SHCA’s approval of a takeout license for what it was, an approval of a takeout license at that address, not an implicit endorsement of Subway. It would have been disingenuous of them to insist that the space is not appropriate for a food business just because Subway was the only one that actually bothered to apply for the legal permits to run a food business at that address. Pickles and Pies and the ill-fated Halal butcher were both operating illegally because they never applied for the certificate. The African market before that was probably in the clear since they didn’t serve prepared food. Spruce Hill wanted to, *GASP*, encourage commerce on the main neighborhood commercial corridor, nothing more, nothing less.

    So in a way, the neighbors who opposed Subway have those failed Mom and Pop shops to thank for this, because had they applied and been approved, Subway could have waltzed in and opened months ago and there wouldn’t have been a damn thing you could do about it. Instead, vacancy begets vacancy.

  36. Ishmael Says:

    Business isn’t everyone’s god. Some of us believe that patience and thoughtfulness is preferable to turning our neighborhood into a mall. Chains don’t care about neighborhoods. Period. Not only that, but chains that attract young people often facilitate the creation of crime hot spots. Check out the stupid planning done on the 40th Street corridor, which now has a chain theater (with police patrolling it), a McDonalds, and a Ben & Jerry’s. The 40th Street corridor is arguably the birthplace of the Philadelphia flash mob, but inarguably a crime hot spot, replete with plenty of robberies, shootings, homicide, assaults, etc., and despite heavy police presence! Crime hot spots are created, in the main, by constructing places 1) that attract youth and with them various predators; 2) have a residential neighborhood nearby (to break into or to hide/flee). and 3) easy access via public and car transportation to arrive (good for youth gatherings) and to get away (good for predators). Locally-owned small restaurants and other such businesses do not typically attract groups of youth milling around looking for something to do. But cheap sandwich and hamburger chains like McDonalds and Subway most certainly do. Check out the research on crime hot spots. Perhaps our urban planners will do so before they become cheerleaders for chain stores in our neighborhood. Watch Penn’s mistakes and learn from them, rather than repeat them. Penn drove out all the interesting small stores and replaced them, for the most part, with chains that not only robbed the area of character and charm, but that also routinely pull up stakes (sometimes in the middle of the night) and abandon the area.

  37. Anonymous Says:

    When you’re almost done laughing at Ishmael, go to spotcrime.com, enter “4000 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA,” zoom in to the “hotspot” area and prepare for another round of laughter. Repeat indefinitely until exhausted.

  38. Schnarf P. Buttkis Says:

    Ishmael,
    Do you mind if I call you Ishmael? I guess I missed the part where ANYONE was “cheerleading” for Subway. Granted, I was on my prayer mat worshiping Business and subsequently robbed by a group of young people with nothing to do because they were uninterested in the independently owned arcade at 40th and Spruce, but I’m sure you have your reasons for saying that.

    My point was and remains: SHCA was presented with a situation in which their only course of action was to approve or deny a takeout certificate for a restaurant, regardless of which business applied or where the owner lives. An outright denial of the certificate means that, for better or worse, that location can NEVER be a food use. If that is truly what folks wanted, well fine. But if you wanted a mom and pop shop that sells sandwiches or anything else, that opportunity is now gone. Presumably forever. But then the ZBA is nothing if not inconsistent, unprofessional and comprised of total doofuses, so who knows?

  39. Josh Says:

    Ishmael,

    I hope you take a moment to re-read what you just wrote. Here is a fact. The young people that are attracted to these “hot spots” you speak of, are also residents of this city/ neighborhood. The neighborhood is for all of us, not just you and whatever vision YOU have. Stop being an old stick in the mud, and stop perpetuating the idea that these kids are just out to get into trouble. Also, last time I checked, Subway wasn’t exactly the teenaged version of Chuck E. Cheese…

  40. Sean Dorn Says:

    You do all realize that if Subway could prove that they were rejected because of the chain issue that they could a.) get the zoning overturned and b.) maybe get legal fees paid by your taxes. Zoning in the city of Philadelphia regulates for use, not for chain vs. local. If you want the city zoning laws changed you should get them changed. The reality is that the more zoning is a case by case process where the ZBA makes up the rules every time not according to uniform laws but by who makes the biggest noise, the harder it is for locally owned businesses to get started. Corporate chains can hire big law firms for zoning, mom-and-pops typically can’t. Ironically this may be a win for chains over the long term.

    I do wonder how this proposal was substantively different from past (failed) businesses in that spot, or will be different from likely future uses. I’m also perplexed by mention of hardware stores. Would be great but they typically need a lot more square footage and will have much, much more of an issue with customers using the alley to load hardware onto their trucks etc. A hardware store would actually have all the problems some neighbors allege about alley use but seems a little unlikely from a sandwich shop in the real world.

    Also curious how new simpler, more uniform zoning code will effect appeals process.

  41. Sean Dorn Says:

    Garden Court Community Association covers Cedar to Larchwood, west of 46th to 52nd.

    “We have shown that we can come together to ensure the safety of our children, to protect our properties, and for the overall good of our neighborhood.”

    Its not exactly her properties, her neighborhood, her children to speak for. Its Spruce Hill’s properties, Spruce Hill’s neighborhood, Spruce Hill’s children. She’s on the wrong side of the street.

  42. Ishmael Says:

    Josh,
    I am not against people in the neighborhood. I’m against creating conditions that lead to trouble. Often the young people from the neighborhood (or for that matter, any young people who gather–say, at their houses when their parents are out for the evening, etc) find themselves in trouble not of their making; sometimes they find themselves in trouble simply due to the critical mass of young people. Don’t take my word for it; research crime hot spots and you’ll see. It’s not a race/class issue; it’s an age issue. That said, in a neighborhood where there’s very little for young people to do, the conditions for misconduct are amplified. Check out the 40th Street corridor. That’s in our neighborhood, friend. And the kids who are shooting each other, mobbing people, assaulting others: also from our neighborhood. Maybe you’re fine with getting shot or mugged by someone, as long as they’re from the neighborhood, but some of us aren’t. If you create the conditions for trouble, you’re as culpable as the people who end up causing the trouble. Some very awful unintended consequences are the legacy of well-intentioned, pious, ignorant people.

  43. Stewie Says:

    Are you kidding me? Subway becomes a fermenting spot for violent ideas?

    And neighbors are sweating increased traffic that may make the alley a raceway and parking lot more so because a locally owned franchise operates the storefront versus some Rockwellian neighborhoody store? Any store locating there *will* increase traffic…

    I hope the future Subway owner fights the zoning ruling as it cowers to un-informed and stereotypifying hate that’s morphed to hysterical proportions.

    Nitwits…

  44. notes Says:

    Thank you EJM & E.L for your words. fresh air in the midst of all this.

  45. Nathan Says:

    Good read. I’m thinking about opening up a franchise in my town as there is not one here yet. Hard to believe though as they are the biggest fast food franchise out there.

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