Owner of planned coin shop tries to calm Fox Chase

Res­id­ents who at­ten­ded the re­cent bi­monthly meet­ing of the Fox Chase Homeown­ers As­so­ci­ation didn’t seem to mind hav­ing a col­lect­ible-coin deal­er do­ing busi­ness in their com­munity, but at least sev­er­al of the neigh­bors want no part of an­oth­er “we buy gold” shop.

Yet the own­er of Fox Chase Coin, at 326 Lo­ney St., wants a city zon­ing li­cense that will al­low him to do pre­cisely that — to buy gold and oth­er pre­cious metals from walk-in cus­tom­ers.

Own­er Mike Lavanga in­sists that if the li­cense were to be gran­ted, coin-deal­ing would re­main as his primary busi­ness activ­ity, while buy­ing and selling pre­cious metals would con­sti­tute only a small part of his busi­ness. But some neigh­bors re­main skep­tic­al of po­ten­tial use of the site.

They don’t want to give any­one an op­por­tun­ity to start a pawn shop-style busi­ness where people des­per­ate for cash sur­render their valu­ables for less than they’re worth and where petty burg­lars and thieves try to fence the pro­ceeds of their crimes.

Cit­ing the need for more in­form­a­tion about the zon­ing ap­plic­a­tion, the civic group tabled a vote on the is­sue. At the re­com­mend­a­tion of FCHA zon­ing chair­man Craig Turn­er, the civic group’s ex­ec­ut­ive board will con­sult with City Coun­cil­man Bri­an O’Neill in the com­ing weeks, then con­duct a vote in ad­vance of a sched­uled Dec. 12 city Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ment hear­ing.

The next FCHA gen­er­al meet­ing won’t be un­til Jan. 11, too late for the zon­ing board hear­ing.

“I have no in­terest in be­com­ing a cash-for-gold op­er­a­tion,” Lavanga as­sured res­id­ents. “That’s not my busi­ness mod­el.”

The busi­ness own­er de­scribed him­self as a former res­id­ent of the North­east who has strong fam­ily ties in the area, al­though he has lived out­side the city for years — first in Bucks County and now in New Jer­sey.

Ac­cord­ing to his Face­book page, Lavanga gradu­ated from Coun­cil Rock North High School in New­town, Bucks County, in 1994, stud­ied polit­ic­al sci­ence at Vil­lan­ova Uni­versity and now lives in Lawrenceville, N.J.

He also is a long­time fix­ture in the re­gion’s Demo­crat­ic Party, hav­ing run un­suc­cess­fully for a Coun­cil Rock School Board seat, a seat on the Northamp­ton Town­ship Board of Su­per­visors and a seat in the state House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives in re­cent years.

He has leased the store­front for about a dec­ade. The space is next door to Old Lon­don Pizza across Lo­ney Street from a SEPTA bus turn-around, Lions Park and the rear of the Amer­ic­an Le­gion Post 366.

In a rarely seen scen­ario, state Rep. Kev­in Boyle and his le­gis­lat­ive as­sist­ant, Jeff De­mp­sey, sup­plied the strongest en­dorse­ments for Lavanga dur­ing last week’s civic group meet­ing.

De­mp­sey read a let­ter from Boyle (D-172nd dist.) in which the first-term Demo­crat high­lighted Lavanga as a reput­able busi­ness own­er and Fox Chase Coin as an as­set to the com­munity. De­mp­sey fur­ther de­scribed Lavanga as a long­time busi­ness as­so­ci­ate and per­son­al friend.

De­mp­sey later spec­u­lated openly that oth­er less de­sir­able uses could be brought to the Lo­ney Street site that would be per­mit­ted un­der its cur­rent C-2 com­mer­cial zon­ing des­ig­na­tion — even a meth­adone clin­ic, he warned.

No oth­er pro­pos­als have been offered for the site, however.

While Boyle is a res­id­ent of the same ward (63rd) and di­vi­sion (first) as the coin store, state law­makers or their aides rarely take sides pub­licly in neigh­bor­hood zon­ing is­sues be­fore the com­munity as a whole and the city coun­cil­man for the dis­trict have weighed in on the is­sue.

In ex­plain­ing why he wants the pre­cious metals li­cense, Lavanga told neigh­bors that oth­er coin deal­ers in the neigh­bor­hood already have sim­il­ar li­censes and have put him at a com­pet­it­ive dis­ad­vant­age.

On oc­ca­sion, he said, a cus­tom­er will enter his store look­ing to sell col­lect­able coins to him, but he has to turn them away be­cause the coin is con­nec­ted to or­na­ment­a­tion made of a pre­cious met­al or it’s part of a set of items that also in­cludes pre­cious metals.

Ad­mit­tedly, the shop own­er said, those situ­ations are the ex­cep­tion, rather than the rule.

As for con­cerns about his own busi­ness prac­tices, Lavanga claims he posts his prices openly and clearly for pat­rons to see when then enter the store. And he keeps re­cords of people from whom he buys items, just in case a ques­tion arises over own­er­ship.

In an un­re­lated zon­ing is­sue, the Fox Chase res­id­ents voted un­an­im­ously to op­pose a vari­ance sought by the own­er of a home at 1218 Rhawn St. for a front yard fence.

Ac­cord­ing to Turn­er, a white, syn­thet­ic fence meas­ur­ing at least 5 feet in height has been erec­ted in front of the home, al­though the city zon­ing code re­stricts front-yard fences to 4 feet.

The think­ing be­hind the height lim­it, Turn­er ex­plained, is that high fences ob­struct views of a home from the street. That can pre­vent po­lice from see­ing il­leg­al activ­ity on the prop­erty and poses a se­cur­ity risk for the homeown­er and neigh­bors.

The city’s De­part­ment of Li­censes and In­spec­tions is­sued the prop­erty own­er a no­tice of vi­ol­a­tion, Turn­er said. The prop­erty own­er then ap­plied to leg­al­ize the fence. ••

The next Fox Chase Homeown­ers As­so­ci­ation meet­ing will be on Wed­nes­day, Jan. 11, at 7:30 p.m., at Amer­ic­an Le­gion Post 366, 7976 Ox­ford Ave.

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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