Union hall expansion approved in Parkwood

The Parkwood Civic Association usually likes union halls in the neighborhood. And the neighborhood sure has a lot of union halls.

But when the community group got word of a zoning application by the Local 1 Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers to expand their hall in the Byberry East Industrial Park while turning it into a nightclub, a lot of neighbors balked.

Residents learned last week that the union has no intention of opening a nightclub — or worse, a “gentlemen’s club” — at 2706 Black Lake Place. Rather, the “nightclub” designation being sought is merely the city’s new way of classifying union halls and other similar catering facilities, according to attorney David Orphanides, who represents the Bricklayers.

Ultimately, Parkwood Civic members unanimously approved the union’s expansion plan during the community group’s monthly meeting on Jan. 20, but only on condition that the union hall will continue operating like it has in the past, as a catering and banquet facility.

The confusion was largely a result of the new zoning code adopted by the city in 2012. The Bricklayers hall was a legal catering facility before then with its own state liquor license. Under the old code, nightclubs had a different zoning designation. Now, the zoning is the same for the two different uses.

Meanwhile, the code requires that the union apply for a new zoning approval so that it could extend its catering operations into the newly expanded building. The union plans to build a second story on the front of its existing building, a covered patio on the side and a single-story addition in the rear. The existing first-floor offices would be moved upstairs and the catering area extended in the front, side and back.

Neighbors have no problem with that as long as the union agrees to several conditions of operations. They want specific hours of operation (no alcohol served after 1 a.m.) and assurances that the union will not host outside liquor licenses, nightclub-style promotions or adult entertainment. The conditions will be drafted in a letter and included in the zoning file. A Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing is scheduled for Feb. 9.

In other meeting business:

• State Rep. Martina White updated residents on her activities in Harrisburg. She is continuing to advocate for a “complete” state budget “that fully funds our schools and doesn’t hurt working families.” She also reported the passage of a law to prevent multi-state welfare fraud and that a portion of Academy Road will soon be rededicated in memory of fallen Fire Battalion Chief Michael R. Goodwin Sr.

• Matt Darragh and Fran Nelms each attended the meeting. Both are seeking the Democratic nomination for an opportunity to challenge the incumbent White in this year’s 170th House district election.

• Walter Lafty invited residents to experience the Grand Army of the Republic Museum at 4278 Griscom St. in Frankford. The museum is open Tuesdays from noon to 4 and the first Sunday of each month (excluding holiday weekends) from noon to 4. Admission is free. The monthly Sunday program includes a 1:30 p.m. historical presentation.

The museum features Civil War uniforms, equipment, artifacts and records collected from the city’s original 39 Grand Army of the Republic posts. Union Civil War veterans were eligible to join the GAR, which ceased to exist in the early 20th century when the last of the Civil War veterans died.

• Jeff George, legislative aide for City Councilman Allan Domb, invited residents to apply for the Earned Income Tax Credit, a federal tax refund. The deadline is April 18. Last year, 188,000 Philadelphians were eligible for EITC based on their incomes, but 40,000 eligible taxpayers didn’t bother to apply. ••