EKNA meeting voters support Frankford Ave. gastropub

At a recent meeting of the East Kensington Neighborhood Association’s zoning committee, attendees discussed three proposed development projects, but by far the most controversial was a proposal for a “gastropub” at 2519 Frankford Ave.

While by the end of the evening the proposal was approved by a vote of 40 to 15, the discussion wasn’t without its arguments.

Attorney Leonard Reuter pitched the idea of the bar and eatery — tentatively named “Devil’s Workshop” — at the meeting Wednesday, Aug. 8, at Circle of Hope church, 2009 Frankford Ave. Reuter said that the establishment would be similar to Memphis Taproom at 2331 E. Cumberland St.

Reuter denied rumors about the proposed project.

“The owners are not intending to open a strip club,” he said.

Rumors had started, he said, after “live entertainment and dancing” were listed in the project’s description.

These details, he said, were intended to describe that the business would have space available for dancing to live acoustic music on weekends.

Along with bringing a business to Frankford Avenue, Reuter said the building would have outdoor lighting and surveillance cameras to help make the area safer.

As proposed, the bar would feature a seating area with 16 tables and enough space for about 134 patrons. In the proposed three-floor structure, the bar and eatery would be located on the first floor, the second floor would hold the kitchen and the third floor would be used as a residential apartment for one of the shareholders, David Zepp.

Zepp’s involvement was a point of contention among attendees, with some citing his history of property management in the community.

Sweetwater Group, Inc., a newly incorporated company, would own Devil’s Workshop. The shareholders of that company are Zepp and Debra McManus.

As detailed on local activist Chris Sawyer’s blog, www.philadelinquency.com, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is currently seeking over $16,000 in tax liens from Zepp.

In fact, a check of the Frankford Avenue property’s current tax status shows that Sweetwater Group, Inc. owes nearly $5,000 in city property taxes.

Reuter said that Sweetwater Group, Inc. purchased the property in October last year and those taxes accrued under the previous owner. Also, Reuter told the meeting that Sweetwater Group, Inc. was currently working with the city to pay that tax bill.

EKNA zoning chair Andy Barrera pointed out that the vote that evening was to be on whether the community felt the zoning of the site — it’s currently zoned residential — should be changed to permit a restaurant.

“This isn’t a project review,” said Barrera. “We’re just here to get the community’s opinion on if we want a bar and restaurant in that location.”

While the presentation may have started tumultuous, at the end, many in attendance applauded the plan for a gastropub on Frankford Avenue.

Also up for discussion at the meeting was a proposal for two single-family homes at 2068 and 2070 York Street.

The buildings would be constructed by the sustainability-focused company PostGreen LLC, and would be three-story structures, each with two bedrooms.

The community approved the project in a vote of 35 to seven.

Attendees also voted on a proposal for a multifamily home at 2133 Cumberland St.

Owner Mark Zwick presented a plan that would fit three apartments into a three-story house. Locals expressed concern over the cramped and crowded design of the project, and said that renters would flood the streets with their cars. Residents voted down the proposal by 40 to eight.

Staff Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.