Earlier this year neighbors of a BP gas station in Cedarbrook began noticing some changes. Renovations were clearly being done on the premises at 8301 Stenton Ave. but residents hadn’t been notified as required under Philadelphia’s new zoning code.
They soon learned that work was underway to bring a Subway sandwich shop to the intersection of Stenton and Mt. Airy Avenues.
“People don’t always pay attention and they’re betting on that. They didn’t think we were paying attention.” said Carol Scott, who heads the Upper East Mt. Airy Neighborhood Association, a Cedarbrook civic working under the registered community organization, 50th Ward Democratic Executive Committee.
The association, together with the support of Ninth District City Councilwoman Marion Tasco, State Representative Cherelle Parker (D-Philadelphia), State Senator LeAnna Washington and East Mt. Airy Neighbors (EMAN), has been mobilizing to put a stop to what they say is unwelcome expansion on a nuisance property.
A Subway on Stenton
The plan is to modify the interior of an adjoining former auto repair garage into an approximately 600 square-foot Subway sandwich shop, confirmed Rawley Shelton, territory manager for Philadelphia Subway Development, LLC. The franchise, to be operated by franchisee Vijay Patel, will offer take-out service only.
Once they learned of the project, near neighbors sprung into action to halt the building alterations by notifying the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I). L&I issued a stop work order on February 25, after determining that work was being done without proper permits.
The property owner is now seeking a special exception for a take-out sandwich shop as part of the existing gas station with its accessory convenience store. The case went before the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) in February and April, but the hearings were continued.
Should construction resume after the next ZBA hearing, it may only be a matter of months before the shop could open to the public. “Generally it takes 60 days,” Shelton said.
Residents are not against the franchise but its chosen location, preferring instead for Subway to occupy one of the vacant properties on Stenton Avenue with capacity for sit-down dining. “Don’t put it in a hole in the wall where there’s congestion,” Scott said.
She says neighbors fear the shop will add to the traffic and parking problems that already plague the intersection. There is concern that the store’s proposed hours (seven days a week, until 10 p.m. on weeknights) will also lead to increased loitering on the corner.
And then there’s the trash. Scott says the franchise owner has not given any indication of what plans are in place for the waste the fast food establishment and its customers will generate. One neighbor has photo documentation of an existing rodent problem on site, she said.
Shelton said there would be additional garbage pickup, though he admitted not knowing to what extent.
Another source of anxiety is the precedence that will be set if the special exception is approved. The worry is that it will open the door for other stores to extend their hours of operation well into the night, which could adversely impact the residential property owners.
“All these things effect our quality of life,” Scott noted.
A long history of being a bad neighbor
The commercial property, owned by Craig Children LLC, which also owns auto repair shops in Frankford, Bustleton as well as the Tom Craig Radiator Warehouse in Palmyra, NJ has leased the lot to the BP service station franchise, operated by Pruthviraj Inc.
Scott, who has lived on the 900 block of E. Allens Lane for the past 40 years, said the gas station has a long history of being a bad neighbor. For more than a decade, residents have had unresolved complaints including non-compliance with a 2004 proviso drawn up to address numerous quality of life issues.
The proviso stipulates that the lot be cleaned daily and more lighting be provided. Banners and signs which have do not relate to the business were also to be removed. The franchise was to take adequate measures to reduce loitering and discontinue its sales of rolling papers, blunts and other drug-related paraphernalia.
Neither the franchisee nor the property owner made any changes.
“Merchants are also neighbors, but they should be good neighbors.” said Marion Johnson, legislative aide to Councilwoman Tasco.
The Upper East Mt. Airy Neighborhood Association plans to continue fighting the plan to bring Subway to the location. Scott says the hope is that the franchise owner will take note of the overwhelming opposition and withdraw plans.
“Why come into an area where you’re not wanted?” she said.
The property’s next scheduled hearing before the ZBA will take place on July 9.