E. Torresdale Civic approves Maggie’s Cafe expansion

Res­id­ents of East Tor­res­dale spent more than two hours de­lib­er­at­ing how to re­act to a loc­al tav­ern own­er’s pro­pos­al to ex­pand his busi­ness. But by the end of an Aug. 11 meet­ing of the East Tor­res­dale Civic As­so­ci­ation, Kev­in Good­child got neigh­bors’ go-ahead to more than double the ca­pa­city of Mag­gie’s Wa­ter­front Cafe.

The ap­prov­al is con­di­tion­al. Good­child and his zon­ing at­tor­ney, Shawn Ward, agreed to severely cur­tail open-air food and drink ser­vice. The ven­ue at 9238-50 N. Delaware Ave. over­looks a city park and the Delaware River. Without the con­di­tions, neigh­bors voted 15-29 against the ex­pan­sion, but with the con­di­tions ad­ded, they voted 29-15 in sup­port. More than 60 people at­ten­ded the meet­ing, but many were in­eligible to vote be­cause they joined the civic group that night.

The pro­pos­al now awaits ac­tion by the city’s Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ment, which may opt to grant the busi­ness four zon­ing vari­ances or re­ject the ap­peal des­pite res­id­ents’ con­sent.

“What Kev­in’s try­ing to bring is a bet­ter din­ing es­tab­lish­ment to the area,” Ward said.

Con­di­tions at Mag­gie’s have for years been a po­lar­iz­ing is­sue among neigh­bor­hood folks, with many sup­port­ing the growth of the din­ing and drink­ing es­tab­lish­ment and oth­ers per­sist­ently crit­ic­al of al­leged mis­con­duct by pat­rons and the pur­por­ted neg­at­ive im­pact on the loc­al qual­ity of life. Traffic, il­leg­al park­ing, noise, foul lan­guage and lit­ter are com­mon com­plaints.

“At the end of the day, my con­cern with this fa­cil­ity is the pat­rons out­side,” one loc­al man and homeown­er said. “Take the mess in­side.”

Con­versely, some im­me­di­ate neigh­bors say that Mag­gie’s has made great strides in re­du­cing noise and oth­er prob­lems. Good­child has in­stalled trees on the peri­met­er of the busi­ness to shield neigh­bors from po­ten­tially un­desir­able sounds and sights. Mag­gie’s has also ad­voc­ated for the com­munity as a pop­u­lar ven­ue for char­it­able fun­draisers that be­ne­fit po­lice, fire­fight­er and chil­dren’s char­it­ies, among oth­ers.

Now, the pro­pri­et­or plans to ex­pand the second-floor din­ing room, build a roof and en­close the north-side patio and to leg­al­ize an ex­ist­ing stor­age shed that serves as a walk-in cool­er. The single-story shed was leg­al as a de­tached struc­ture, but a re­cently in­stalled roof qual­i­fies as an ad­di­tion to the main build­ing and re­quires a per­mit.

The city’s De­part­ment of Li­censes and In­spec­tion ini­tially re­fused to per­mit the en­tire pro­ject for sev­er­al reas­ons. Firstly, the busi­ness already op­er­ates un­der a use vari­ance, so any ex­pan­sion re­quires that the zon­ing board ex­tend the ex­ist­ing vari­ance. Fur­ther, the second-floor ad­di­tion would not con­form to a min­im­um 15-foot set­back from the front curb as re­quired by the zon­ing code. Ward noted that the first floor is already closer to the curb than 15 feet and the pro­posed ad­di­tion would be flush with the ex­ist­ing facade.

The two oth­er L&I re­fus­als are park­ing re­lated. Un­der the zon­ing code, at least 30 off-street spots would be re­quired to ac­com­mod­ate the pro­posed seat­ing ca­pa­city of 295. (The busi­ness already has 132 seats.) However, for the time be­ing, Mag­gie’s has only 25 spots, al­though the own­er is plan­ning to ex­pand park­ing by an­oth­er 16 spots on an ad­ja­cent prop­erty that he owns. The park­ing ex­pan­sion is not in­cluded in the cur­rent zon­ing ap­plic­a­tion. Also, the pro­posed ex­pan­sion does not ac­count for the re­quired han­di­capped van park­ing space. Again, Ward said, that dis­crep­ancy will be re­solved in the fu­ture park­ing lot pro­ject, which is await­ing ap­prov­al from the city’s Streets De­part­ment.

Ward told res­id­ents that the goal of the pro­ject is for the busi­ness to main­tain its river­front views and at­mo­sphere without im­pact­ing nearby res­id­ents neg­at­ively. So the front of the north patio will have a rolling front door, fa­cing the river, but walls in the sides and back fa­cing homes. Sim­il­arly, the pro­posed second-floor ad­di­tion will have large ac­cor­di­on-style win­dows in the front, but smal­ler win­dows on the sides. 

Ward said that the busi­ness would close all side doors and win­dows by 11 p.m. on weeknights and mid­night on week­ends. Fur­ther, there would be no out­door seat­ing on the north patio, and cafe tables in the front of the busi­ness along the river would also be re­moved, Ward said. The busi­ness would still al­low pat­rons to smoke on the patio, but there would be no food or drink ser­vice out­doors.

The en­closed patio would have a bar with about 15 stools, ac­cord­ing to a schem­at­ic draw­ing. The second floor would have a new brick oven and bar with about 19 stools, as well as ad­di­tion­al rest rooms. The pro­ject would in­clude a new first-floor ves­ti­bule at the main en­trance, as well as an ex­ter­i­or, en­closed stair­well lead­ing from the en­trance to the second floor.

All of the new in­door and en­closed spaces would be air con­di­tioned.

Some neigh­bors ob­jec­ted to the busi­ness of­fer­ing to re­move out­door cafe-style seat­ing, not­ing that part of the ven­ue’s unique at­mo­sphere is ac­cess to patios over­look­ing the river. ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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