The City Planning Commission voted Tuesday to recommend approval of part of a controversial expansion plan for a Northern Liberties bar that is owned by a city Democratic committeeman and that sits next door to the committee's new headquarters.
The commission favored a bill that's before City Council that would make Bodine Street private property between Spring Garden and Green streets, along the eastern edge of the bar's property, as long as a public thruway along the block remains open to bicycle and foot traffic. The bar, Finnigan's Wake, is at 3rd and Spring Garden. The commission suggested, however, that the proposed 6-foot public walkway area be widened.
"The objection neighbors had at the very beginning is we don't want a private entity ... taking over this and squeezing out the public," Matt Ruben, president of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, said during the commission's meeting, adding that 6 feet is too narrow and would make residents feel like they couldn't use it.
The commission voted against a second related bill that would allow the bar to install balconies above the sidewalk along Spring Garden Street. When former Councilman Frank DiCicco introduced the first bill related to the bar's expansion last year, neighbors suggested that built-in balconies be moved from their original proposed location on Bodine Street to wider Spring Garden Street, but Ruben said neighbors now oppose the overhead balconies altogether.
The commission approved of parts of that bill, including planters that would be placed along the sidewalk, but was against its encroachment on public air space.
"It's a concern to the community to have to walk under that and beside it," Ruben said. "It's not Bourbon Street; it's a Philadelphia neighborhood."
Ruben said neighbors don't mind if the bar opens a patio along Bodine Street as long as an acceptable walkway stays public.
Mike Driscoll, owner of Finnigan's Wake and a Democratic committeeman, said the balconies on Spring Garden would provide a "well-lit area, dusk to dawn" because he would also add lighting.
Driscoll said the expansion, which would include valet parking, would be focused on a catering business and would keep clientele from parking in the neighborhood.
"We're very happy they approved what they approved," Driscoll said after Tuesday's vote.
Of the neighbors, whom he plans to meet with again to work toward an agreement, he added: "I think the more they think about it, the more they'll go for it."
Councilman Mark Squilla, who reintroduced a version of the bills this year, said Council will likely discuss them June 7.
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