Mid-Century needs new space after zoning refusal

Mid-Cen­tury Fur­niture Ware­house is ex­pec­ted to stop op­er­at­ing out of a Fishtown build­ing after last-minute op­pos­i­tion at a zon­ing meet­ing nixed their re­quest for a vari­ance.

Mid-Cen­tury Fur­niture Ware­house, a Fishtown fur­niture store, is leav­ing its cur­rent loc­a­tion after un­ex­pec­ted neigh­bor­hood op­pos­i­tion at a Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ment meet­ing led to the busi­ness be­ing re­fused a zon­ing vari­ance.

“We really love where we’re at,” said Heidi Duffey, the busi­ness part­ner of own­er Bri­an Lawlor, of East Columbia Street — that’s where the ware­house, a 200-year-old former barn, has been loc­ated for the past four years.

“But we have just de­cided we have to pick up and move,” she said.

Fol­low­ing the city’s re­fus­al to al­low the busi­ness a zon­ing vari­ance, Duffey and Lawlor are look­ing for a new loc­a­tion for the store. They said they feel there were in­suf­fi­cient grounds for re­fus­ing their vari­ance, but at this point, a leg­al battle to over­rule the zon­ing board’s de­cision would be pro­hib­it­ively ex­pens­ive.

They are await­ing a cease-and-de­sist let­ter from the city any day now.

“It’s very dev­ast­at­ing for us. It’s go­ing to cost us thou­sands of dol­lars. I don’t know if it will, but it could shut the busi­ness down,” said Duffey, a North­ern Liber­ties res­id­ent, of the pro­spect of mov­ing the ware­house.

The ware­house, which has six em­ploy­ees in­clud­ing Lawlor and Duffey, had been a stor­age space for fur­niture that is sold to deal­ers. In Ju­ly, they began open­ing up the ware­house twice a month to the pub­lic, of­fer­ing fur­niture at whole­sale prices.

At that time, they also ini­ti­ated the pro­cess of ob­tain­ing a vari­ance to change their build­ing’s zon­ing from res­id­en­tial to busi­ness.

“It’s [zoned] res­id­en­tial, which is weird be­cause it doesn’t have a kit­chen or any­thing,” Duffey said.

The Fishtown Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation al­most un­an­im­ously passed the pro­pos­al, 10 to one, after hold­ing a hear­ing open to the pub­lic on Sept. 18. The FNA sent a let­ter to the city in­dic­at­ing their ap­prov­al of the zon­ing change.

However, when Duffey and Lawlor went to a fol­low-up ZBA meet­ing held by the city on Sept. 28, they said they were am­bushed by two neigh­bors with a “laun­dry list of com­plaints,” Duffey said.

“We didn’t think any­body was go­ing to be show­ing up at the zon­ing hear­ing to con­test or protest be­cause we thought we had worked through the is­sues at the neigh­bor­hood as­so­ci­ation meet­ing,” Duffey said. “We didn’t know that we needed people to come speak on our be­half, and we couldn’t talk ourselves.”

She said that the neigh­bors made false state­ments, which she and Lawlor were not al­lowed to re­but, in­clud­ing that the ware­house was open for busi­ness every day and was us­ing strong chem­ic­als to work on their fur­niture. Duffey said they are not open every day and the strongest chem­ic­al they use is lem­on oil to clean wood fur­niture.

An­oth­er com­plaint was they were park­ing a com­mer­cial truck on the street, and ap­par­ently “people were hav­ing trouble see­ing it when they turned,” ac­cord­ing to Duffey.

“There were con­cerns we only heard about for the first time at the meet­ing. And we would have been happy to sit down with them and work through these is­sues,” Duffey said.

Duffey also said she has learned that the daugh­ter of the two neigh­bors who com­plained is go­ing to open a fur­niture store right around the corner from where their store is loc­ated.

She was un­cer­tain if there would be a fur­niture sale this com­ing Sunday, as they may re­ceive the of­fi­cial cease-and-de­sist let­ter from the city any day now. She said they are look­ing for a new loc­a­tion any­where in Phil­adelphia.

“Every­one has said if we had a law­yer there it would have been a slam dunk, but we didn’t take a law­yer,” Duffey said of the ZBA meet­ing.

“A gripe of two neigh­bors is not grounds for a re­fus­al,” she said.

Re­port­er Sam Ne­w­house can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at sne­w­house@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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