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Cutting through the Zoning Code: Guns! Clubs! The Zoning Administrative Manual, Part 2

This week, Cutting through the Zoning Code is cutting through the Zoning Administrative Manual (ZAM). We’re taking a Northern Liberties property and running six new uses through ZAM (and the code) to test ZAM’s guidance. Yesterday, part 1 gave an overview of ZAM and tried a body art facility on for size. Today, it’s guns and house music. Can you tell I spent some time in Chicago?

Option 2: “Nick’s House of Guns”

What does Philadelphia need? Obviously, more guns. And all new industrial districts except IRMX permit their sale, although every district except I-3 requires special exception approval. My parking should be fine at this site; I need to offer the same number of spaces as at my body art warehouse. And assuming, again, that I want to keep the building dimensions the same—and that I want to be Northern Liberties’ premier purveyor of Walther PPKs, because I’m Bond like that—what do I need to do?

Chapter 3, “My Project Needs a Special Exception Approval,” looks promising, but Nick’s House of Guns may not be. L&I will definitely determine that my use needs a special exception—the code states that clearly. So I get referred to ZBA, and to six more steps.

First, I must notify all relevant Registered Community Organizations (RCOs) within 21 days of getting my referral to ZBA, but before the hearing itself. I must file a “Petition to Appeal” to ZBA, and I must post a sign on my property about the ZBA hearing. After meeting with the RCOs, I must send the ZBA documentation of that meeting at least a week prior to my hearing. Then: the hearing, where the burden is on me to demonstrate nine things, from consistency with the city’s Comprehensive Plan to not endangering the public safety. Because I anticipate some objections, I think I’d hire an attorney to help make my case, but I wouldn’t be too optimistic.

Conclusion: Nick’s House of Guns is technically possible, but without significant neighborhood support, I think a gun store in this property is highly unlikely. But it is permitted by special exception.

Option 3: “Nick’s House of House: A Discotheque

5,000 square feet isn’t that big, but it’s big enough for a little club. I’d probably even keep the name “Pride of the Sea,” along with keeping the building essentially the same (except for installing a couple of bars and a banging sound system, of course). So, industrial use tables, can I open my club?

Yes! A nightclub, under the Assembly and Entertainment category, is permitted by-right in ICMX. Again, by using the existing building, I don’t have to worry about additional standards that would be triggered by large expansion or new construction. I might be able to hustle the parking standards too. The requirement is one parking space for every ten seats or one space for every 1,000 square feet. It seems that I could minimize my seating by offering, say, 50 bar stools. That way, I think I could massage my required parking down to no more than five spaces (the building, again, is 5,040 square feet).

However, the zoning code isn’t the only thing that regulates businesses. I’d also need to get a special assembly occupancy license from L&I (the zoning code definition of “nightclub” pointed me to the relevant section of the Philadelphia Code). I’d need to post a notice at my property for 30 days, and L&I considers community input and impact for these applications. I can’t move forward with my club unless I get this permit; but if I do, my neighbors couldn’t use the zoning code to object—ICMX allows nightclubs by-right.

Conclusion: Nick’s House of House is a maybe, depending on neighborhood support. But the code allows it.

Tomorrow: Fishy Nick’s Seafood Palace and the Problem of Parking

Contact the reporter at ngilewicz@planphilly.com


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