Should Every Pop-Up Beer Garden Be Required By Law to Get Community Input?

State Rep. Jordan Harris thinks so.

Flyer on left courtesy of Jordan Harris’s office. Flyer on right via Facebook.

Two very different flyers advertised state Rep. Jordan Harris’ meeting Thursday night on pop-up beer gardens.

Philadelphia’s pop-up beer gardens, fun and lighthearted as they may seem to some, have been quite controversial.

When a few sprouted up last year, state lawmakers expressed “grave concern” about them. Now, a beer garden in the city’s Point Breeze neighborhood has drawn intense criticism from residents.

Democratic state Rep. Jordan Harris hosted a meeting Thursday night to address the community’s apprehensions. An anonymous flyer lambasting Point Breeze’s pop-up was distributed before the event. It read: “This will bring in New Comers who will be drinking from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. They will be walking all around our neighborhoods drunk, like they own the neighborhood.” So yeah, that was the tone (of some) going into the event.

We decided to catch up with Harris after the meeting. In a brief Q&A, he said that he doesn’t fault Point Breeze Pop-Up creator John Longacre for the hubbub, that pop-up beer gardens should be required by law to obtain community input before opening, and more. (For a full recap of the night, you can read BillyPenn’s article here.)

PhillyMag: Why did you decide to host a meeting on the Point Breeze Pop-Up?

Harris: Several residents in the area around the pop-up park had voiced some concerns that, one, they felt that they hadn’t been notified about it and they had some questions and some concerns. So I went to the proprietor and told him about what I was hearing and asked if he would be willing to be a part of a meeting, and he agreed. And because this deals with liquor, it kind of made it into my wheelhouse as a state legislator and that was the genesis of it.

PhillyMag: Tell me a little more about the questions and concerns you were hearing from constituents that prompted the meeting.

Harris: The No. 1 concern was that many of the near neighbors knew nothing about it. They knew nothing about the preparation, the planning or anything like that. Many of them had no advanced notice, so they were very concerned about that. There was a lot of perception issues that I think they were concerned about. … So I said, “Let’s have a meeting. Let’s clear the air, find out exactly what it is, find out from the Liquor Control Board exactly what happened, and find out what John Longacre plans for the summer, and go from there.”

PhillyMag: What was some of the testimony you remembered from the meeting?

Harris: The pastor of a church, his church is like literally directly across the street from the beer garden. We’re talking less than 100 feet … and he had concerns with people being in front of the church as parishioners were leaving, with alcoholic beverages. I think many of the near neighbors, their concern was they heard there was a community meeting held, but none of them were invited to it. And I think that, more than anything, was the theme. That kind of threaded everyone together.

I think you would feel the same way if two doors down, a very public and very open event was going to be open throughout the summer, and you didn’t know anything about it. And I’m not exaggerating. There was a woman there who was literally two doors down and did not hear or was not notified about a hearing that was taking place. And so for me, that was the major concern.

Me in general, I’m personally not opposed to pop-up gardens. Actually, I supported the one on South Street after there was a little dispute about holes in the law. I remember calling [state Rep.] John Taylor myself and saying, “John, I’m not opposed to the concept at all.” My genuine concern is one being in a residential neighborhood and not giving neighbors the opportunity to be a part of the process. They felt blindsided.

PhillyMag: Do you think the meeting was successful?

Harris: I think people do feel better about that fact that they were able to share their concerns. It’s a work in progress. Sometimes it’s hard to unring a bell. I don’t particularly fault John Longacre or the organizers of the Point Breeze pop-up.

PhillyMag: Then who do you fault for the fact that some community members feel left out?

Harris: I’m not really about pointing fingers. I’m about finding solutions. I don’t fault John and from what the Liquor Control Board said, from where the law stands — and this is something I will be looking at from the legislative perspective — the law doesn’t require community involvement or approval. And I don’t that is right. I think that is something that needs to be tweaked in the law.

PhillyMag: How would you like to change the law?

Harris: I very much believe that community involvement should be a part of the approval process for catering licenses that allow pop-up gardens to be a part of communities, particularly in residential neighborhoods. And honestly, that’s nothing new. If there’s a zoning variance on the city level, community groups have input in that process.

… I’ll be drafting letters to both the majority and minority chairs of [the liquor committee] in the House, and then I’ll look at what other changes we can make. But I’m 100 percent in the corner of the fact that community members should have a voice at the table when we’re proposing this.

PhillyMag: There has been tension — whether you see it as racial tension or tension over gentrification — in Point Breeze in the past over zoning issues, development and other things. What have you done, or what do you think should be done in the future, to address some of those underlying tensions?

Harris: So, first thing, a lot of the areas that you’re talking about are local areas. So I haven’t necessarily been involved because those issues were local issues. This just so happens to be a state issue.

… Honestly, sometimes I think the tension is blown out of proportion. Because when you walk in neighborhoods like I do in my community, there aren’t people who are standing there with pitchforks telling people, “You can’t come in. This is my neighborhood and go home.” That’s not the tone of the masses.

And I got to be honest, sometimes when I read certain articles, I do believe that the way things are written, they are blown out of proportion. Are people concerned about their property taxes going up? Yes, but they’re black, white, green, whatever color. Those folks are long-term residents, those folks are folks who just moved here. Everybody’s concerned about whether the school on their block is going be a good school. Everybody’s concerned about whether you can walk to the store without feeling unsafe.

Do I believe that there are growing pains? Yes, I do. Do I believe that there are racial tensions? No. I lived through that.

Do things get heated? Yes, in meetings, yes, things do get heated. I’m not going to say they don’t. But at the end of the day, do people still go back to their neighborhoods and if their neighbor needs help, do they try to help them? Absolutely, yes they do.