Furniture store’s zoning denial was supported by 28 signatures

Concerned that some people in the community believe she and her parents have run the competition out of town, Catherine Jennings said she always supported Fishtown’s Mid-Century Furniture Warehouse, and her parents weren’t the only neighbors who opposed a variance the store needed to stay in business.

“I voted for the variance. I voted for the furniture store,” Catherine Jennings, owner of vintage furniture store Keys to the Attic, 314 E. Girard Ave., told Star. Mid-Century is located a block away from Keys to the Attic and is owned by Brian Lawlor.

“What some people are saying, it sounds like I put this guy [Lawlor] out of business,” Jennings said of comments posted on the Web pages Fishtown.us and Philadelinquency.com. “But I want their business there. People are more likely to come to clusters of stores.”

Star reported Oct. 10 that Lawlor and his business partner, Heidi Duffey, have decided to vacate their current location after unexpected neighborhood opposition at a Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting led to the business being refused a zoning variance.

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.

Mid-Century Furniture Warehouse has been operating for about four years on the 1200 block of East Columbia Ave. inside a 200-year-old barn that is zoned residential. After its owners started holding biweekly sales out of the warehouse this summer, they applied for a business zoning variance.

The Fishtown Neighbors Association supported the variance application, 10–1, during a Sept. 18 public meeting, and the association informed the city by letter. Jennings said she was among those who supported of the variance.

However, Jennings’ parents, Joseph and Leonor Jennings, who live on East Columbia Avenue, were among those who protested the variance at the final Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing on Sept. 28. The variance was denied. The ZBA declined to comment on its decision.

Heidi Duffey told Star she felt the two neighbors ambushed her and Lawlor at the hearing. But more than 20 people who live on the street and nearby, including Jennings’ parents, had signed a petition against granting the store a variance. Jennings said her parents told her about the petition, which Jennings said they did not initiate.

Jennings said she does not know who filed the petition, which is signed, “The Local Residence [sic] of the 1200 Block E Columbia Ave”. It reads, in part:

“The Owner of this garage has been selling or leasing to sell use [sic] Furniture and Movie Props out of this garage for the past two years along with repairing refinishing, painting gluing and sanding the furniture for resale. Most of the selling & repair work is done outside on the sidewalk. This is an eyesore to our Beautiful Block as well as a hazard from the smell & fumes of the sanding & chemical ordors [sic].”

It continues, “Parking has also been an issue with customer’s [sic] loading & unloading furniture into vans and cars without proper loading area causing unsafe traffic issues. The owner also loads and unloads furniture after business hours taking precious parking space from the local [sic]…We live on a Residential Block and with the nearby Girard Ave Business District we feel strongly that this block should remain residential.”

Twenty-eight individuals signed the petition.

In reference to the complaint of chemicals, Duffey told Star the strongest chemical the business uses is lemon oil to clean wood furniture.

“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 previously told Star. “We didn’t know that we needed people to come speak on our behalf, and we couldn’t talk ourselves.”

“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,” she continued.

“It wasn’t just two people,” Jennings said of opposition to the variance. “Even if my parents voted against it, that has nothing to do with me.”

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