Zoning news: Apple Lofts approved, liquor store denied – for now

April 19, 2012

The Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) recently acted on two disputed West Philly development proposals. The ZBA approved a developer’s proposal to turn the long-empty Apple Lofts Storage building at 780 S. 52nd St. into a 112-unit apartment complex. But it denied the proposal to convert the adult video store near 43rd and Chestnut into a state Wine and Spirits Shoppe.

The Apple Lofts project, which required a rezoning from industrial to residential, garnered wide support from many residents and businesses nearby. Dozens of letters in support of the project, proposed by Iron Stone Strategic Capital Partners, came into the ZBA. Those in favor included the Cedar Park Neighbors Association and community radio station WPEB. That support outweighed the opposition, which was orchestrated by the Community Achievement Association (CAA). The CAA, as the City Paper recently reported, is essentially one person – West Philly resident Shawn Kelly.

Kelly submitted a thick file of petitions and community meeting minutes to the ZBA. Concerns included an increase in surrounding residents’ property taxes and the environmental hazards, including the disruption of toxic soil at the site.

videoMeanwhile, the ZBA denied the proposal to convert Risque Video (pictured), the largest storefront in a strip mall at 43rd and Chestnut, into an “upscale” liquor store. Many West Philly residents supported the proposal because of the closing of a Wine and Spirits Shoppe at 4049 Market Street earlier this year. That closure has put considerable customer pressure on the remaining local shop near 49th and Baltimore.

The Spruce Hill Community Association last month tentatively supported the proposal with the stipulation that the 5,000-square-foot space be converted to an “upscale” store.

But many Muslim residents who live near the location oppose the proposal. The plaza also includes a halal restaurant and butcher shop. The Masjid al-Jamia mosque is a block away on 43rd and Walnut.

This is not the first time the ZBA has rejected a plan for a liquor store in the area. In 2007 the ZBA rejected an application for a liquor store near 43rd and Walnut – across the street from Masjid al-Jamia – after vocal opposition from Muslim residents.

But this one might not be over. The ZBA is currently reconsidering the denial after an appeal.


36 Comments For This Post

  1. suzanne Says:

    hooray for the apple lofts project going forward! boo for the kabosh on the much needed liquor store. 49 & baltimore is ALWAYS crowded.

  2. Travelgirl Says:

    We need more booze! : )

  3. mds chill Says:

    A large, well-stocked liquor store is one of the few things West Philly is missing! 49th and Baltimore is much better than it was when it was down the street, but when you compare it to 12th & Chestnut or Snyder & Columbus it is sorely lacking.

  4. Christina Says:

    Do bars and restaurants that serve food have trouble moving into neighborhoods that have Muslim residents? I can’t say I know much about zoning… Do vegetarians fight butcher shops, halal or non?

  5. Andy L. Says:

    The liquor store decision is being appealed (ZBA didn’t have all voting members present and there were a couple oddities at the presentation.) Spruce Hill Community Association is involved in the appeal and will circulate a petition soon to gather signatures of supporters of an upscale liquor/wine shop at this location.

  6. Andy L. Says:

    Awesome news about Apple Lofts!

  7. Stacey Says:

    An atheist myself, I try to be respectful to people of all religions and creed. Having said that, the Muslim community [deleted]. I don’t know how our accessibility to convenient alcohol infringes on their ability to practice their religion.

  8. Ella Says:

    I love how everyone is all for an appeal to turn over a zoning decision when it’s something the more ‘upscale’ residents of this neighborhood want. Backroom deals are okay for us, but not for Subway!

    Also, Stacey–no need to be such a jerk about your opinions.

  9. Stacey Says:

    Sorry to be offensive. It just makes me wonder how Muslim communities in other major US cities — New York, LA, Chicago — are able to safely and freely practice their religion with a minimum of two liquor stores on every block. To dispute openings of liquor stores in a community were there is a very minimal presence seems a bit excessive and not at all diplomatic.

  10. Sean Dorn Says:

    Actually in other states where liquor sales are not limited to state operated stores, a lot of the small grocery/liquor stores are owned and operated by Muslim immigrants. Somehow actually directly selling the stuff day in and day out does immediately cause them all to lose touch with their faith and become godless heathens. How can that be?

  11. David H. Says:

    @Sean – it’s funny how commerce sometimes trumphs religious beliefs.

  12. Anon Says:

    But other states have had trouble with Muslim cab drivers refusing to transport alcohol (picking people up at the airport who just shopped at the duty-free store). West Philly does not have a monopoly on this kind of idiocy.

  13. Tony Secreto Says:

    Sean, its really a matter of the flavor of the religious community. This is a good indicator that the Islamic community in that area is fairly right leaning and into promoting religious influenced law in the community at large. In my opinion, its a good idea to appeal this since I frequented the store on the 4100 block of Market Street in order to avoid the lines around the corner from my own house. I don’t have time to wait in line when I want a cocktail! Ella, I’m not sure I understand the nature of your issue. It sounds like you are saying that people who go to the liquor store are snooty or something like it…. I’m not sure how Subway is allowed into our neighborhood since I can never make it to community meetings, but if no one gos to their store, they will go away.

  14. Sean Dorn Says:

    Google found this link about the “Liquor Store Wars” in Oakland, CA.

    Kind of interesting. Can’t quite get a political read on the where the site is coming from but the story itself is fascinating. Sort of the urban food desert issue piled on top of ethnic tensions with immigrant merchants, mixed with intra-Muslim moralizing.

  15. LW Says:

    Maybe they should open the Subway in the old Risque, and the liquor store on Baltimore. Then everyone’s happy!

  16. Matt Says:

    Both of these sites seem to be conflicts between an affluent/white/pro-gentrification bloc and a enclaves that have been in the neighborhood much longer. Regardless of the obvious commercial benefits of both changes, I have a good amount of sympathy for the opposition (not so much Kelly personally, but the perspective that Apple Lofts will radically change the makeup of that neighborhood). It’s important to remember that having lived in West Philly for 2-5 years does not constitute the kind of investment that many of the 10/20/30 year residents and religious/cultural communities have made. They have a claim here that fans of upscale lofts and liquor stores simply do not have. It would be wise not to forget that.

    To assume that any poor, predominantly black/ethnic block in West Philly is crime-ridden and NEEDS upscale commerce and affluent people to move in — well, that’s pretty racist and myopic. Many newer residents of this community are unwittingly destroying the cultural mosaic that initially attracted them here, by the imposition of their dominant-culture preferences as “universal”.

  17. Anonymous Says:

    Matt, I have 9+ years in this neighborhood and there are many affluent and/or white “gentrifiers” that have lived in this neighborhood for decades. At which point are our concerns and support legitimate? How long must we wait to be recognized at “true” residents of our own f**cking neighborhood? Frankly, I am loosing my patience here.

  18. Teri B Says:

    I’m one of the people who are against Subway moving in on Baltimore Avenue. BECAUSE of this, I think it is entirely reasonable that Muslim residents don’t want a liquor store in that plaza. Those of us against Subway feel it compromises the values of the neighborhood, and what we love about it. Well, the area of the proposed liquor store is indeed quite Muslim-heavy. As stated, that plaza is home to several Muslim-specific businesses, and it is surrounded by various Middle Eastern restaurants and other establishments that many West Philly residents frequent and enjoy. We can’t partake of those and then scorn the people who provide them to us. I am sure the many Muslim residents in that area value the Islam-friendly nature of the businesses there as much as other West Philly residents value the local/organic/eco-friendly/veg-friendly/independent/individual nature of the business on Baltimore st.

    I am in favor of a bigger and better liquor store. But in light of the Muslim community’s complaints, I see their point and would agree that the proposed location is NOT the best place for it. And I think those who complain about “the trouble” with Muslim residents and make snide comments about their faith are being really insensitive and hypocritical.

  19. 46er Says:

    It is not fair to compare subway to liquor store. If you don’t like subway, you can go to Fu Wah or make you owned one at home. Last time I checked, I can’t even buy liquors from NJ to PA legally. People will drive 10 miles for liquors. For Subway or even Fu Wah, I won’t drive a mile just because I am hungry.

  20. Andy L. Says:

    Here’s a link to the petition that Spruce Hill Community Association is circulating that will be used at the appeal for the wine and spirits store. If you’d like to see this development happen and you live in the area, please add your name and address.

  21. Stacey Says:

    Yeah, I don’t really get the argument equating an upscale liquor store to Subway and that it “compromises the values of the neighborhood, and what [they] love about it.” So, going by that logic, what the Muslim community “loves” about the neighborhood is a trashy XXX store and check cashing place? Because Risque Video has always been such an upstanding pillar of the community and all.

  22. Matt Says:

    Stacey, with all due respect, the reason you don’t get the argument is that you assume that many of your preferences are universally shared. It’s not a question of “what is lost” in some romantic sense — it’s a question of two equally-valid cultural INTERESTS (white/affluent/liberal and conservative/Muslim) deciding that they don’t like or want a specific thing.

    Let’s be real here. You and many others don’t want a Subway because it offends your personal sensibilities. That’s fine. They don’t want a liquor store because it offends their personal sensibilities. That’s ALSO FINE. I’m sure they’re not fans of Risque Video, but I bet they had hoped it would be replaced with something other than a booze store.

    This raises a secondary issue about liquor stores — the treatment of alcohol sales as a basic need on par with safe/healthy/affordable food. It’s not. It’s a luxury product (particularly evidenced by people wanting an “upscale” liquor store). In that sense, Subway is in a similar category, just with an appeal to a different interest group.

  23. Ella Says:

    @Matt–well said! It’s good to see that some people around here still have sense.

  24. Stacey Says:

    “You and many others don’t want a Subway because it offends your personal sensibilities.”

    Who said that my sensibilities were opposed to the Subway? Please don’t put words in my mouth. Personally, I think a Subway is better than another empty storefront, but that’s just me. The reason I don’t get the argument is because there isn’t a significant segment of the population championing for a Subway. And from what I can understand, a major argument of people opposing the Subway is concern for putting mom and pop stores out of business. I don’t think this will be the case, and I also don’t think Subway will flourish — but that’s neither here nor there. I’ll also note that with the addition of the new subway, West Philadelphia will now have more Subway restaurants than Wine & Spirit Shops. I can see the point you were originally trying to make, but it fails on many levels.

    On your second point, no one is trying to equate alcohol with basic needs to sustain human life. But as American citizens we have the right to purchase alcoholic beverages, and Pennsylvania is one of the only states in the union that makes it difficult for citizens to do so. You’re right, there are two equally-valid cultural interests at play here. And I don’t think it’s fair for one to deny the other because of “personal sensibilities.”

  25. Sean Dorn Says:

    “Both of these sites seem to be conflicts between an affluent/white/pro-gentrification bloc and a enclaves that have been in the neighborhood much longer.”
    People have been drinking wine and spirits in West Philadelphia much longer than there has been a mosque here. Most of the mosque’s congregation are quite recent immigrants and the whole “gentrification” thing has been going on the neighborhood for a good 30 years. So your time line in relation to the Wine and Spirits Shoppe seems totally backwards.

    Really there is a fundemental misunderstanding of zoning going on here. It isn’t supposed to be an issue of “what do the people who have lived in the neighborhood longest want” or even “what do the majority of people want”. Its supposed to be “Does this type of usage significantly impinge on the quality of life of the rest of the neighborhood?” If the answer is no then it doesn’t matter if people in the area don’t prefer one type of business or the other. Zoning is only for instances when someone doing what they want with their own property has the potentially directly negatively impact your enjoyment of your own property, not a chance for anybody and everybody to chime in on what they would like someone else to do on their own property. Its not their business.

  26. Paul Says:

    Reading all this back-and-forth, I couldn’t help wondering (I am relatively new to the area): are there any Muslim members of the Spruce Hill Community Association? What about readers of/contributors to this blog? Are Zoning Board meetings the only time these two apparently discrete groups are in the same room? I’m not so much trying to make a point as I am actually asking.

  27. wza Says:

    I would figure any religious entity would see a liquor store as an excellent recruiting/marketing opportunity. If you’re going to be pious about something, might as well take it all the way and actually CONTRIBUTE rather than just being an obstacle all the time.

  28. Sean Dorn Says:

    I don’t know about membership. There are actually two large mosques in the general areas. The one at 45th and Walnut (as opposed to the one at 43rd and Walnut) has worked closely with SHCA in the past on development projects the Mosque has been involved in 45th between Sansom and Walnut.

  29. Amara Says:

    At least one neighborhood Muslim has signed the petition in support of the store.

  30. Sean Dorn Says:

    Also SHCA first supported a location directly across the street from the mosque at 43rd and Walnut which was rejected and that mosque seems to be the ones leading the charge, so it may be partially a case of bad blood over the first location.

  31. Didi Says:

    What would be a good alternate location for a liquor store, which would certainly help ease the long lines on Baltimore? I can’t think of any commercial properties that would be large enough to allow any sort of selection other than the Risque store. Maybe something on Spruce?

  32. 46er Says:

    Didi, why not expanding the existing one Baltimore?

  33. Didi Says:

    46er, no real problem with that but they’d also need more staff/cash registers and it might be easier for the state to get more staff in separate locations.

  34. Jen Says:

    The one on Baltimore was already expanded within the past 5 years. Don’t think they’ll be expanding again anytime soon.

  35. SW Says:

    I fully appreciate and respect the decision of our Muslim neighbors choice not to consume alcohol. However, as a vegetarian for personal and philosophical reasons, I do not impose my beliefs on a diverse urban neighborhood, rallying against stores that serve meat, with views that are not the same as mine.

    I also take exception to the presumption that the state store is for the affluent/white people. Take a drive over to 54th and City Line Ave Wine Store, where you will find a very nice neighborhood wine store which serves the predominantly African-American West Philadelphia sections of Overbrook and Wynnefield, as well as Main Line residents and St Joe’s students. I defy anyone to stand outside this store and suggest, that although it is a high end wine store on the “other side of City Line”, it serves only affluent/white people. This store is a perfect example of the way in which a higher-end wine store can serve a diverse community, much the way the proposed wine store at 4301 Chestnut would do. Many members of our community whether European-American, African-American or other ethnicity should, and will, enjoy the benefits of the store at 4301 Chestnut.

  36. Ryan Says:

    46er: with the closure of the 40th and Market W&S, there is no place to buy wine or liquor in the entire 19104 zip code. While an expanded 49th st store is fine and dandy, i doubt powelton village residents would be thrilled to travel miles out of the way just to get a bottle of wine.

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