The Zoning Board of Adjustment began to hear arguments Wednesday about zoning relief for Penn Treaty Village—the bowling-alley/concert-venue/restaurant/distillery/Toby Keith bar proposed for Canal Street in Fishtown—before dismissing the opposing parties until a special hearing can be scheduled.
The developer, Core Realty, received conditional approval for its plan of development for the project from the City Planning Commission in December. Core, which owns a handful of properties in the area, is seeking a series of variances related to uses, parking, and signage. Two nearby residents—Jethro Heiko and Ed Verrall, veteran anti-casino activists—are opposing the variances. Attorney Paul Boni is representing them at the zoning board. Saul Ewing attorney Anthony Forte is representing the developer.
The project would turn the vacant Ajax Building at the corner of Delaware and Frankford into a concert venue run by Live Nation; it would be a Fillmore venue, like the former TLA on South Street. The venue’s maximum occupancy would be 3,000, and a representative of Live Nation said the group plans to hold around 65 concerts a year.
The project would also include a bowling alley with a sports bar, a distillery with a tasting room, ground floor retail, and Philadelphia’s only Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill. To get a sense of what kind of place that aspires to be, watch this music video.
The plan includes two surface parking lots, and it would make an existing non-accessory sign on the Ajax Building permanent. Scenic Philadelphia attorney Stephanie Kindt appeared at the zoning board Wednesday to oppose the legalization of the billboard.
Paul Boni read into the record part of an article about a series of drug-related arrests following a concert at a Fillmore venue in Washington, D.C. He pointed out that the property could also be used as a venue for DJs. The Live Nation representative said he expects most events at the venue to end around 11 p.m.
ZBA Chairwoman Lynette Brown-Sow ended the hearing abruptly, telling the attorneys, one of whom was in the middle of a sentence, “OK, Seeya. Bye. People are waiting.”
After the hearing, Boni said that the project will have a huge impact on the nearby residential properties, and that the applicant can’t show the hardship necessary to earn variances. He said that the city had imposed an overlay banning new night clubs for that area of Delaware Avenue because of problems with vandalism and crime years ago. He said that overlay was a good policy, and that it was working. The Canal Street North project, he said, includes “nighttime liquor-intensive uses with what we believe to be insufficient parking.”
Asked whether that part of the Delaware now contained too few active uses, Boni said simply, “Peace is good.”
The Planning Commission’s approval of the development plan was contingent upon the developer showing support from the local RCOs, providing at least 500 parking spaces, and verifying that all signage onsite is accessory to the proposed uses, among other conditions. Attorney Anthony Forte could not be immediately reached for comment after Wednesday’s hearing.
Jared Brey is a freelance reporter based in Philadelphia. His work has been featured in Philadelphia magazine, Hidden City, The Philadelphia Inquirer, City & State, and other publications. He covered development, zoning policy, historic preservation, and city government for PlanPhilly from 2011-2016.