The Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment overturned a decision regarding a proposed liquor store that has been stirring some controversy in the Spruce Hill community.
The Zoning Board approved the application of a state liquor store at 43rd and Chestnut streets on June 13 after rejecting the store at an April hearing. The new ruling comes after the entire Zoning Board heard arguments for and against the store during a special appeals hearing on June 6.
The store will be the closest liquor to store to Penn’s campus after another store at 41st and Market streets permanently closed on Jan. 14 due to problems with the landlord and building site.
“People who were in support of it are quite pleased and we are committed to doing whatever we can to make sure it’s an asset and not a liability to the neighborhood,” Spruce Hill Community Association zoning committee Chair Barry Grossbach said.
The state is working on negotiating a lease agreement with the owners of the space, Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board spokesperson Stacey Witalec said.
Dan ReRitis, who co-owns the shopping plaza, expects to establish a timetable on the store’s opening within the next 30 days. The store will replace adult video store Risqué Video.
The Zoning Board does not release explanations for its decisions. However, Grossbach attributed the reversal to the SHCA’s different approach for the June hearing.
In April, the SHCA did not make an effort to have people in support of the store sign a petition or attend the hearing. The association was trying to avoid a “brawl and division in the neighborhood” similar to the one in 2007 that erupted when the Zoning Board rejected a liquor store at 43rd and Walnut streets across the street from the Masjid al-Jamia mosque, Grossbach said.
“We decided it was necessary once again as we had done in 2007 to show the board that there was considerable support in the neighborhood for the store,” Grossbach said, referring to his approach at the June 6 hearing. “We didn’t allow ourselves to get run over or create the impression there was only opposition and no support.”
Witalec said the state is deciding whether or not the store will be a premium store, meaning it would carry an expanded selection of wine. DeRitis and Grossbach are both expecting a premium store that will be an upgrade over the liquor store at 49th Street and Baltimore Avenue and the closed 41st and Market streets store.
Henry Blocker from the PLCB said at the hearing this store would be one of the better liquor stores in the city, according to Grossbach.
“We feel we have a commitment from [the PLCB] of what will be going into the space and we expect them to honor that commitment,” Grossbach said.
The store faced strong opposition from the Muslim community. A petition against the store garnered 305 signatures, many of them local Muslims who oppose the store because of its close proximity to the mosque.
Mohammed Musa, one the signatories and a resident of South 44th Street near Ludlow Street, said during a June 6 interview that many Muslims would stop coming to the shopping plaza if the liquor store opens. The plaza houses the Medina Halal Meat Market, a grocery store and butcher shop.
While the Zoning Board officially approved the store, SHCA will remain involved in the details surrounding its opening. Grossbach and others on the association will make sure the proviso he and owners of the plaza signed calling for additional security from the University City Police is properly enforced.
“We’re happy that this is behind us now and we will certainly do whatever we can to heal whatever rift there may be in the neighborhood,” Grossbach said.
He added, “We welcome diversity in this neighborhood. We believe that people of different views, beliefs, customs and traditions can exist side by side in respect of one another without imposing their views on one another.”