Council committee gives OK to beer-store limits

Posted: December 02, 2003

A City Council committee gave preliminary approval yesterday to two separate bills that would ban new stores that sell takeout beer and allow a Wal-Mart to be constructed in Port Richmond.

The bills are expected to come up for a final vote before the full Council on Dec. 11.

Council's Rules Committee voted unanimously to recommend to Council a bill proposed by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell that would prohibit new small neighborhood stores that sell takeout beer and malt liquor in various parts of the city.

Under the bill, anyone interested in opening such a store would first need a variance from the city's zoning board. Currently, such operations do not need special permission.

Blackwell said the measure would reduce the number of nuisance takeout stores that attract customers who loiter, deal drugs and drink outside.

Requiring the variance, she said, would make it more difficult for prospective store owners to receive city approval and would give residents a chance to object.

The bill would not affect existing stores.

"We want the ability to try to regulate as much as we can those who allow their establishments to be hangouts," Blackwell said.

Councilman Darrell Clarke yesterday joined Blackwell and fellow Council members Frank DiCicco, Michael Nutter, Donna Reed Miller, Marian Tasco, and Council President Anna C. Verna, who have cosponsored the bill and sought to extend its proposed restrictions to their districts.

The committee also voted, 5-1, with Councilman David Cohen voting against, to recommend a bill to the full Council that would allow a 139,000-square-foot Wal-Mart to be built in Port Richmond.

Steven Wolfson of Wolfson Verrichia Group Inc., a Plymouth Meeting firm that specializes in shopping centers, plans to build the Wal-Mart at the polluted and abandoned G.B. Goldman paper factory across the street from Northeastern Hospital on East Allegheny Avenue. Under the proposal, the developer would be responsible for cleaning up the asbestos-polluted site.

The committee's vote came despite the objections of some neighborhood residents, State Rep. John Taylor (R., Phila.), representatives from the food workers' and hospital workers' unions, and officials from Temple University Health Systems, which operates Northeastern Hospital.

They expressed concerns about traffic, jobs that might disappear at smaller stores unable to compete with the much larger Wal-Mart, and the ability of emergency personnel to access the hospital.

But Jenn Richards, a member of the Port Richmond Community Redevelopment Group, said the proposal would rid the neighborhood of an eyesore and fire hazard. "It makes Port Richmond a better place to live," Richards said.

Jerry Coughlin, business agent for Local 1856 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, which would get many of the construction jobs the new store would create, also supported the proposal.

"We have hundreds and hundreds of carpenters out of work," Coughlin said. "Quite frankly, we need those jobs, and we need them now."

Contact staff writer Anthony S. Twyman at 215-854-2664 or atwyman@phillynews.com.

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