[Updated at 6:15 p.m.]
The War on Pop Up-Beer Gardens is back.
On Wednesday, a beer garden located in Philadelphia’s Point Breeze neighborhood closed after it received a cease-and-desist letter from the city’s Licenses & Inspections department.
What infraction caused the city to shut it down immediately? The letter says that the property is not zoned to be used as a beer garden.
John Longacre, the proprietor of the Point Breeze pop-up, contends that 1) pop-up beer gardens don’t need to apply for any zoning changes because that is not a requirement under the state-issued permit that allows them to exist, and 2) he submitted a zoning application last week anyway, just to satisfy the city.
BillyPenn first reported on the cease-and-desist order late Wednesday night.
Longacre says the pop-up is “peaceful and harmless,” and “beloved by the neighbors.” He believes it is being targeted because “two or three anti-gentrification people” have made persistent complaints to the city department and state officials.
Because this is L&I we’re talking about, the story only gets crazier from here.
Longacre told us that a representative for him went to the Municipal Services Building Thursday morning in order to appeal the cease-and-desist order.
Here’s what he says happened after that: An L&I employee told Team Longacre that the proprietor has to file a zoning application in order to appeal the cease-and-desist order. Longacre’s rep said he did — a week ago. Then the L&I employee checked the department’s computer system and said, yup, he’s right, and that zoning application should have actually prevented Longacre from receiving the cease-and-desist order in the first place. Therefore, the employee allegedly said, Longacre cannot file an appeal because he never should have gotten the cease-and-desist order in the first place.
We reached out to L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams for comment (and clarity), but have not heard back from him. We’ll update the story if we receive a response.
However, we did speak with Andrew Ross, a chief deputy city solicitor who handles zoning matters. He said that in this case, state law does not supersede city zoning requirements. Therefore, if a person is running a temporary beer garden, the property still needs to be zoned for that use even if that person obtains a state permit.
He also said that a proprietor does not have the right to operate a beer garden simply because they have filed a zoning application.
“This is yet just one more example of [L&I] doing what it does best … nothing!” Longacre wrote in an email about the course of events. “This story is not about me or even the Point Breeze pop-up for that matter. It’s about a weak state legislator and the most dysfunctional, poorly managed city services department in the country.”
The Point Breeze pop-up has been a subject of controversy pretty much as soon as it opened this May. State Rep. Jordan Harris’ office held a meeting on “community concerns” about the establishment last month. An anonymous flyer circulated around the neighborhood before the event, urging residents to attend and speak out against the beer garden. “This is a trick to take over our community,” it read.
Harris told Philly Mag afterward that neighbors felt blindsided by the operation and that he wanted to change state law so that all pop-up beer gardens were required to obtain input from the community before opening.
On Thursday, Harris said he did not know that L&I had issued the cease-and-desist order for the Point Breeze pop-up until he read about it online.
“That’s a city agency that doesn’t report to me and I have no authority over them, so I have nothing to do with what Licenses & Inspections does,” he said. “John Longacre knows that. … So I don’t know why my name was even thrown into this.”
Last year, four state lawmakers said that they had “grave concerns” about beer gardens. No legislation was ever introduced to curtail them, however.