East Torresdale Civic claims victory in zoning dispute

Sign shot down: East Torresdale Civic Association blocked a sign overlooking the northbound entrance to I-95 from Linden Avenue. The sign would have been built atop a building at 9310 Keystone St. (pictured above). PHOTO: GOOGLE MAPS

A neighborhood commercial property owner wanted to erect a double-faced illuminated, digital sign that would have overlooked I-95. The East Torresdale Civic Association strongly opposed it.

The East Torresdale Civic Association is claiming victory in a zoning dispute with a neighborhood commercial property owner over his proposal to erect a double-faced illuminated, digital sign that would have overlooked Interstate 95 at the Exit 32/Academy Road interchange.

Attorneys representing the ETCA and property owner Joe Byrne were scheduled to present oral arguments in Common Pleas Court on March 15 as the ETCA was appealing a permit previously awarded to Byrne by the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment. However, the permit allowed for only a single-faced static sign — not a double-sided digital one — so Byrne decided not to pursue the issue, according to ETCA President Lew Halas.

“They pulled it because they were spending money (to defend) a permit that they didn’t want,” Halas said to neighbors during the ETCA’s monthly meeting on April 10.

Byrne’s company, JB Construction, is the listed owner of 9310 Keystone St., a 1,940-square-foot industrial property that abuts the I-95 northbound entrance ramp from Linden Avenue. The sign would have been built atop a building that houses the construction company and a roofing contractor.

In a mandatory presentation to the civic association last year, Byrne’s attorney identified the proposed sign as an accessory use of the businesses that operate on site. The sign would’ve offered a combined 1,440 square feet of advertising space. Neighbors said it would look more like a billboard than an accessory sign. The zoning code categorizes the types of signs differently and assigns different requirements for their operation.

The ETCA opposed the zoning application after residents complained that the sign might pose a safety risk to passing motorists and could become a visual nuisance to homeowners in the area. In an effort to sway neighbors in favor of the application, Byrne offered to pay the nonprofit ETCA $54,000 over three years. Members rejected the offer.

The zoning board approved the application anyway. But while preparing an appeal, the civic association’s attorney realized that the written application approved by the ZBA identified the sign as a non-illuminated and static sign. That it, the message would not change digitally. The civic association continued with its appeal nonetheless, resulting in the March 15 outcome.

In unrelated business, ETCA Vice President Bill Kennedy announced that two new zoning cases were expected to be topics at the group’s next monthly meeting on May 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Liberty Evangelical Free Church, Linden Avenue and Milnor Street.

One case involves a doctor who wants to convert a single-family home at 9625 Frankford Ave. into a medical office. The other case involves a physical trainer’s application to establish an exercise gym at 9456 State Road in the DelAire Shopping Center.

Halas said that the civic association hopes to present a guest speaker from the city’s 311 public service hotline at the May 8 meeting.

Halas further reported that he represented the civic association at a meeting where officials from the mayor’s office and the city’s immigration office briefed community leaders about the city’s sanctuary city status and what it means. In short, the status means that when police arrest someone, they don’t ask for the person’s immigration status. Yet, the person’s identifying information will be entered into a database.

Federal immigration authorities have access to the same database in real time. If they identify the prisoner as an undocumented immigrant, it’s up to federal authorities to obtain a warrant from a judge if they want to pursue immigration enforcement.

The prisoner’s immigration status does not impact whether a local bail administrator grants the prisoner bail or what amount the bail will be. The bail amount will be based on factors including the nature of charges against the prisoner and his criminal history.

If the prisoner obtains and posts bail, the city will not continue to hold the prisoner unless federal authorities have a warrant. The city does not recognize requests to hold a prisoner without a warrant. ••

William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com. Follow the Times on Twitter @NETimesOfficial.