Mayfair Civic to host zoning meeting for Devon Theater

By William Kenny

Northeast Times

The Mayfair Civic Association settled two old zoning issues during the group’s monthly meeting on May 18, but a much bigger one may be just getting started.

MCA leaders announced that the group will hear a potentially controversial zoning case involving the Devon Theater at a special meeting on June 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Mayfair Community Center, 2990 Saint Vincent St. In short, a church group is seeking city permits to set up religious services, a daycare center and a food bank in the 70-year-old theater once known at the “Dirty Devon” because of the pornographic films that showed there.

The days of porn at the Devon are long gone. With business at the single-screen venue dwindling in the late 1970s, the operators began showing adult features. Neighbors ran the skin flicks out of town a few years later.

But that doesn’t mean today’s community leaders want a church occupying an anchor property in the middle of Mayfair’s business district. Speaking at last week’s meeting, MCA President Donny Smith reported that the church bought the site late last year from a real estate investor who had acquired it a few months earlier. The same investor holds the mortgage on the property, Smith said.

City records show that the Kingdom Life Christian Center bought it for $500,000 in December. The property is assessed at $1.78 million. The land is more than one-third an acre, with the building footprint covering most of that.

Joe DeFelice, the zoning chairman and legal counsel for the civic association as well as the board chairman of the Mayfair Community Development Corporation, noted that the CDC has been trying to get certain types of property uses restricted on the avenue in an effort to promote an eclectic mix of retail that will attract visitors. Religious services, daycare centers and food banks are three of those uses that are less than ideal, DeFelice said.

The CDC has long been a key player in redeveloping the Devon. With the help of state funding in the mid-2000s, the CDC spent millions to buy and rehabilitate the old theater into a modern performing arts center with the latest audio-visual technology. Resident producers staged several shows there in 2009 and ’10 before the CDC lost its public funding due to recessionary budget cuts and surrendered the theater to Beneficial Bank.

According to the civic association, the religious group is already conducting services and hosting concerts in the theater pending zoning approval.

In unrelated business, the MCA voted not to oppose two old zoning applications.

At 2000 McKinley St., the owner wants to convert a garage into a cooking facility for third-party caterers. There will be no food consumption or take-out business on-site. At 6300 Frankford Ave., the owner of a gas station and mini-mart wants to install a deep fryer so he can sell hot chicken wings.

• Ruthanne Madway, executive director of the Mayfair CDC, reported that her organization is “in the home stretch” of establishing a business improvement district along Frankford Avenue and adjoining blocks that will allow merchants to benefit from public grants and other programs. The CDC is also hosting a farmer’s market on the 3500 block of Ryan Ave. every other Sunday from May 31 through Oct. 18.

• Mia Hylan, co-chair of the Mayfair Memorial Playground and an aide to state Rep. John Taylor, invited residents to Mayfair Community Night on May 28 at 6:30 p.m. at the Mayfair Community Center. Taylor will distribute information about senior rent rebates.

• Two city traffic engineers presented several proposals for the installation of a left turn lane on eastbound Cottman Avenue at Rowland Avenue. Problem is, space is so tight at the intersection that a dozen or more curbside parking spaces could be lost.

Neighbors didn’t like any of the ideas. The project remains in the design phase. ••