On Wednesday, the ZBA approved a plan for outdoor seating in a garden area behind American Sardine Bar at 18th & Federal. Coming into the hearing, John Longacre, owner of the bar and garden, was concerned that this approval would not come before the summer months rolled around. Just one more delay, said Longacre, would have been enough to push the bulk of construction into July and August.
This was not the first time that Longacre, who also owns the South Philly Tap Room, was concerned that a ZBA hearing would straight-jacket his attempt at using the lot for outdoor seating. He first applied last December but was delayed due to a continuance requested by nearby resident Sylvia Wilkins. Her reasoning was that there was not enough community input on the project, and that the proposed eight foot fences were too high.
The ZBA granted the continuance based on a lack of “interior photographs,” despite the fact that the space in question is outside. Longacre noted that they did not request interior photos for the variance for the second story of the Sardine Bar, which is also zoned for residential use.
Wilkins, who also resisted the approval of the bar itself back 2011, pressed the same issues in the hearing this week as she did in December. She bemoaned a lack of community input and insisted that there be further “design considerations” for the fence. Additionally, she brought up the issue of where trash would be stored on the lot and whether there was access to an adjacent alley. These issues were handily dismissed after Longacre and his attorney answered a few simple questions.
As for the supposed lack of community input, Chairwoman Susan Jaffe noted multiple times that it was not the concern of the ZBA, especially considering that the approval would be under the old code. Even so, Longacre and his attorney made sure to stress the significant community support behind the project.
“We have support from all the community groups, as well 150 neighbors, plus every single neighbor that surrounds the property. We have councilmanic support. We have a support letter from the captain of the police district around the corner,” said Longacre prior to the meeting. “There would literally be no more support that we could garner at this point.”
Several neighbors, the block captain of the 1800 block of Federal, and Al Brown of the Point Breeze Performing Arts Center all appeared at the meeting in support of the project. Some even spoke as witnesses, expressing a general approval of the bar and Longacre’s work in the community.
“When we purchased this lot it was a disgusting piece of land,” said Longacre. “For anybody to oppose al fresco dining based on what was there is absolute insanity,” he added.
Editor Note: Shortly after the hearing on Wednesday, community leader Al Brown passed away. Mr. Brown was a champion of those in need, and was committed to the betterment of his neighborhood. He will be missed.