At the monthly East Falls Community Council zoning-committee meeting on Wednesday, Falls Taproom owner Marvin Graaf sought community support for an outdoor patio that was already built without proper permits.
Geaaf, who bought the Midvale Avenue establishment in 2009, needed a letter of approval from the community group to rectify what he deemed an unintentional oversight.
“I never once in my mind questioned that [the patio] was not already legal,” he said of the concrete patio outside the property he leases from developer Mark Sherman.
How it happened
In the summer of 2012, the City of Philadelphia offered grants for facade improvements in the East Falls business district.
Graaf said he worked with Gina Snyder, executive director of the East Falls Development Corp., to create plans for the Taproom’s exterior. Once the grant was approved, construction commenced.
“Came up with a plan to add handicap access, get rid of trip hazards and fix the railings that were in place,” Graaf said. “We did not pull a permit for that. I didn’t think we needed one being that we were just kind of sprucing up something that was already there.”
A subsequent fire-code inspection, however, brought the illegality to Graaf, who was informed he needed to meet with Streets Department officials.
“Zoning said they would give me the permit to do the work if I had permission from the Street Department, and the Street Department said they would give me permission, but first I needed a support letter from the community,” Graaf said.
This week’s conversation
At Wednesday night’s meeting, Graaf fielded questions and concerns from residents. They centered on whether there were future plans to extend the patio, whether grant approval required permits and whether patrons stood outside beyond the patio railing on the sidewalk to smoke.
The city allows less than half of the distance from the front of a building to the curb for an outdoor patio.
“There is 20 feet altogether, and we have eight of that, well within the limit,” Graaf responded. “I do not have plans of making more changes to the facade of my building.”
William Epstein, first vice president of the zoning committee, framed the patio issue as part of a larger, city concern.
“My guess, knowing what we know now, is that the committee would be supportive of [the prospective ordinance for legalizing the patio],” he said.
“We do have some larger questions about property owners, and this is no reflection on the owner of [Falls Taproom] or necessarily on the owner of the property, but we do have questions about actions all around the city where property owners without permits build out onto public sidewalks,” he continued. “We will express our opinion about that to the appropriate people in the Community who deal with those kinds of issues.”
Sinéad Cummings is a student at Temple University. Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a NewsWorks content partner, is an initiative of the Temple Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.