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Zoning board denies Parx Casino plan to move Turf Club betting parlor inside a Chickie’s & Pete’s restaurant

Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment votes to reject a special exception to permit Parx Casino to move its South Philadelphia Turf Club sports book inside a Chickie's & Pete's restaurant

Not wanting to be identified an anti gambling protester holds signs outside Chickie's & Pete's on Packer avenue. Neighbors don't want a Turf Club off-track betting parlor set up inside the restaurant.  Monday, April 5, 2021
Not wanting to be identified an anti gambling protester holds signs outside Chickie's & Pete's on Packer avenue. Neighbors don't want a Turf Club off-track betting parlor set up inside the restaurant. Monday, April 5, 2021Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

For now, Packer Park residents in South Philadelphia are jubilant that the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment on Wednesday rejected Parx Casino’s application to relocate its Turf Club off-track-betting business inside a Chickie’s and Pete’s restaurant.

During a Zoom hearing, the board voted, 4-1, to deny the application for a special exception that would permit gaming inside the restaurant, at 1526 Packer Ave.

“We are thrilled,” Barbara Capozzi, president of the Packer Park Civic Association, said in a statement after the vote.

In February, neighbors walked through a snowstorm to attend a Zoom meeting with lawyers from Parx Casino about Parx’s zoning application. That meeting also included Chickie’s & Pete’s owner Pete Ciarrocchi, who owns 17 sports bar-restaurants in the region.

The Packer Park group also submitted petitions and held protests outside the restaurant, which they said is a family-friendly neighborhood gathering spot where people celebrate birthday parties and other family occasions with their children. They said it should remain a family restaurant,

“This heroic decision reaffirms that good, hard-working, tax-paying residents have a right to determine what happens in their community. We work so hard here to keep people in the city, keep our own community safe and drug-free, and support working families by providing a safe and welcoming community,” the civic association said in a statement emailed to The Inquirer.

“We testified that we feel we have earned the right to say no to a use that will only serve to erode the beautiful community that we have built. This renews our faith in the system, and in the hard work that our community and Civic Association has always done to defend itself.”

The zoning board rejected the application despite a recommendation from the city Planning Commission to allow the gambling parlor.

Board chairman Frank DiCicco was the lone “yes” vote to allow the gaming operation. Board vice chair Carol Tinari, board secretary Confesor Plaza and board members James Snell and Thomas Holomon all voted to reject the application.

Mark S. Stewart, one of the lawyers for Parx, said that the company would not say whether it will appeal the zoning board vote until it has read the full report. He emailed the following statement:

“We are very disappointed in the Zoning Board of Adjustment’s vote today on the application for 1526 Packer Avenue. Their action was contrary to the City Planning Commission’s favorable recommendation and the strong record justifying the special exception. We will await the board’s written decision before making any decisions on next steps.”

Ian Hegarty, a city planner , told the board Wednesday that the city Planning Commission recommended approving Parx’s request.

“The Planning Commission believes the applicant has demonstrated that the proposed use might have no more of an impact that might normally be expected for this type of facility. We recommend that the board grant the requested special exception,” he said during the hearing.

Parx Casino had announced plans to move its South Philadelphia Turf Club from 700 Packer Ave. to the Chickie’s & Pete’s restaurant — on the other side of Broad Street, citing competition from the new Live! Casino at 900 Packer Ave., which opened Feb. 11.

On its website, Parx said of the 700 Packer Ave. setting: ”Located in the heart of Philadelphia’s major-league sports neighborhood, the South Philadelphia Turf Club is situated next to the Citizen’s Bank Field, home of the Phillies, the Lincoln Financial Field and stadium, where the Eagles play, and just blocks from the Wells Fargo Center, home of the Flyers and the 76ers.”

Paul Boni, the lawyer for the South Philadelphia neighbors, said: “We’re grateful the zoning board agreed that a gambling parlor isn’t appropriate in the middle of a residential neighborhood and in an establishment that caters to children. Government should be protecting citizens from the industry’s excessive onslaught.”

He also argued that the project would be “contrary to the purpose, spirit and intent of the zoning code.”

Capozzi, the Packer Park civic association president, said community members believe Ciarrocchi is an excellent business man who “does not need [gambling] to succeed. We welcome him as a family restaurant and hope he’s here for a long time.”

However, she said, neighbors are wary that Parx might appeal the zoning board’s decision. But she added that neighbors are determined to keep both the restaurant and the community family friendly.

“We fight every day and that should mean something,” she said. “I hope other communities take heart because it’s a daunting task. We were up against the big guys. … The moral of the story is, it pays to fight.”