The last meeting of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association before a summer hiatus, held on Thursday, June 28, included a surprising wealth of new visitors to the group.
The meeting, held at the NLNA’s community building at Fairmount Avenue and 3rd Street, was packed to capacity.
Residents of the Piazza at Schmidt’s, located at 2nd Street and Germantown Avenue, had attended en masse to discuss their concerns following the fatal shooting at the PYT restaurant within the complex on Monday, June 11.
Before broaching that issue, NLNA president Matt Ruben kicked off the meeting with a discussion on Club Aura, at Front Street and Fairmount Avenue, which neighbors have said has been hosting live music even though it doesn’t have the appropriate permits.
“They are no longer allowed to be a night club,” said Ruben.
However, neighbors expressed concerns that the club was promoting a DJ event for that weekend.
Ruben said nothing in the promotional materials he had seen indicated that there would be live music.
He said that since there was no evidence at that time that Club Aura would be hosting live music or dancing, the NLNA would wait to see if they needed to take action against the club.
“We are going to see if they will do anything to abide by the law or if they try to sneak something through,” said Ruben.
An expansion plan for Finnigan’s Wake at Third and Spring Garden streets was next on the agenda.
Ruben said the neighbors’ group has been somewhat handcuffed thanks to City Councilman Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.).
The councilman recently pushed forward bills that would allow Finnigan’s Wake to construct a two-story balcony in front of the bar and nightclub that would hang over the sidewalk along Spring Garden Street and an outdoor patio on Bodine Street, to the rear of Finnigan’s Wake.
The neighborhood group had long opposed the issue and by passing those bills through City Council – though they have yet to be signed by Mayor Michael Nutter – Ruben said the neighbors are left with little recourse to ensure the community’s concerns over the project were taken into consideration.
“If you have another drawing or a rendering that is significantly different, send it to us,” said Ruben. “But, until then, we have nothing to talk about.”
He said local residents worry about noise, and the group was working closely with the owner of Finnigan’s Wake, Mike Driscoll, to come to a compromise on the project before the bills were passed.
When the bills are finalized, the balconies could be built by right, though Ruben said that the councilman and Driscoll have a “gentlemen’s agreement” that no construction would begin without neighborhood input.
“A verbal agreement or a handshake is no way to do policy,” he complained. “If they do build against our will, they will show that they are against what the neighbors want.”
Until the group hears more about the project, the NLNA has created an online letter writing campaign to allow locals to express their concerns over the project with Squilla and other elected officials.
For more information, visit http://citizenspeak.org/campaign/northernlibertiesneighbors/no-finnigans-wake-expansion-without-community-agreement.
Finally, many of those in attendance last week were residents of the Piazza at Schmidt’s, owned by Tower Investments, Inc., and they shared concerns over safety following the shooting that took the life of 25-year-old Maurice Kimble of Upper Darby.
Piazza resident Lucy Sharpe said that the Piazza’s security needs to be improved, as she sees fistfights and other problems after closing time of the several bars and restaurants in the Piazza.
“We need more security in there,” she said. “They should have enough security to remove them [problem patrons] from the premises, not just move them ten feet off the property.”
Ruben said that following the shooting, on Wednesday, June 20, the NLNA joined representatives of Tower Investments, Inc., the 26th and 6th police districts, Tommy Updegrove, owner of PYT, as well as State Rep. Mike O’Brien (D-175th dist.) and others to address safety in the Piazza.
“We immediately felt like we had to get some kind of meeting together,” said Ruben. “But, that’s the safest area in the district, if you look at the numbers.”
Yet, Caroline Carr, a resident of the Piazza, said she was less then ten feet away from the victim during the shooting and she was still shaken by the incident.
“The guy had good aim at least, three of his four shots hit…the victim,” she recalled. “They need to have better training for the security.”
She claimed that during the incident, one security guard helped protect her, but another seemingly ran in fear.
While some in attendance at the June 20 meeting asked about getting additional police to patrol the area, Ruben said that police representatives said the area was already well-patrolled and instead, they talked about “de-escalation techniques” that could keep altercations from getting violent. They also discussed more detailed planning and communication of upcoming events at the Piazza, so that the neighborhood group can be more aware of events there.
Ruben said the overall feeling at the meeting was that the shooting was an isolated incident.
“You can’t prevent everything,” he said.
Finally, for Piazza residents who still had concerns, Piazza resident Hollin Kretzmann is organizing a group of residents who would like to discuss safety and other concerns at the apartment complex.
“When the shooting happened, that kind of motivated me to see if other people are experiencing the same thing,” he said of his efforts.
Piazza residents who would like to discuss concerns following the shooting can contact Kretzmann by email at email@example.com.
As of press time, representatives of Tower Investments, Inc. had not returned calls to answer questions about residents’ concerns.
Star Staff Reporter Hayden Mitman can be contacted at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org.