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 firstname.lastname@example.org