A chicken wing franchise has left some Mt. Airy neighbors hot and bothered after both the owner and landlord failed to meet with the community before proceeding with development plans. Mt. Airy USA (MAUSA) is currently renovating the historic building at 6700 Germantown Avenue, which is set to be the the future home of a Wingstop restaurant.
Anuj Gupta, MAUSA's executive director, repeatedly apologized for the lack of communication. "I have learned my lesson," he told the approximately 50 residents and community leaders that gathered at St. Michael's Lutheran Church last week
State Representative Cherelle Parker called the meeting to address neighbors' fears about Wingstop's recent liquor license application. A Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) sign announcing the application should have been posted on March 15. Instead it went up in early May.
The franchise owner, Richard Johnson, has been cited by the PLCB's regulatory affairs for the late posting, Parker explained. She has filed an objection to the liquor license, suspending the application process.
"Part of the challenge with this process is that it happened backwards," Parker said. "You don't call the community in to talk about wanting to come and be a part of it after you've begun the process."
Johnson, who resides in suburban Whitemarsh Township but grew up in Mt. Airy, assured residents that Wingstop is a family oriented sit-down restaurant, not a sports or nuisance bar. Johnson plans to offer two beers on tap and have a refrigerated cooler behind the counter for bottled beer which will only be served to dine-in customers.
Contrary to earlier plans, Johnson now says the restaurant will not offer take-out beer.
The eatery plans to broadcast sports games on four flat screen televisions to entertain customers waiting for to-go food. The televisions will be muted unless a local game is on or it is a playoffs season.
Johnson, who ran a McDonald's franchise for over 20 years, said he plans on making the Germantown Avenue location the flagship for eight other Wingstop franchises he would like to open in the Philadelphia region.
Lack of designated parking for the restaurant was among the top concerns relayed at the meeting. The property has no off-street parking options. In addition to making parking spaces available for Wingstop's sit-down customers, Johnson has said he will need two 20-minute parking spaces for take-out orders.
Gupta noted that MAUSA has entered discussions with SEPTA to gain permission to allow public parking on its bus depot lot Parking and stopping are prohibited on the half-block stretch of east side of Germantown Avenue in front of the SEPTA depot.
Nearby residents came forward with complaints about existing problems, such as driveways being blocked by vehicles whose owners temporarily park there while visiting the post office, the credit union or other local businesses. Many said they believe the restaurant's take-out business will create similar scenarios.
Joe Sullivan, who lives directly behind the future restaurant at 15 Westview St., worried about waste disposal. Most of the ground that lies between the two structures is his own land. There is no space for a dumpster between his house and the restaurant, he said.
"This business is not the right business for that building," said Sullivan.
Gupta said MAUSA and Johnson are looking at inline waste disposal with a dedicated trash room inside the building as a solution. Garbage would be put out by staff only on trash day for pickup.
"There will be no trash outside, no rodent problem, no carelessness," Johnson promised.
JoAnn Wilson, of W. Hortter St., said she wanted Gupta and Johnson to provide specific ventilation plans to the community with a guarantee that food smells will be minimized.
Others came forward with objections to Wingstop's hours of daily operation, from 10 a.m. to midnight. Pat Lewis, of the 6800 block of Germantown Avenue, told Johnson that she had no problem with the location of the restaurant but feels that midnight is too late for a family restaurant. Neighbors expressed worries that serving alcohol and offering take-out service so late would attract loitering, litter and crime.
Lewis said she also wanted to know more about what the restaurant's signage would look like.
Need for anchor business
Others present voice support for the business. Seth Lieberman of W. Phil Ellena St., reminded folks concerned about parking that they chose to live next to the Germantown Avenue corridor. Liebermann said he welcomes "more eyes on the street" and hopes the restaurant will attract more business to the area.
Jimmie Reed of Little Jimmie's Bakery Cafe said he also shares the concerns about parking, but the lack of business in the commercial corridor's south end is more worrisome. Elizabeth Vander Veer Shaak, of Mt. Airy Violins & Bows echoed Reed's sentiments, calling the 6600 block where her shop is located a "dead zone" with no critical mass.
Parker noted that there are 31 vacancies along Germantown Avenue between Washington Lane and Cresheim Valley Road. Anchor businesses, such as a Wingstop franchise, would allow Mt. Airy to compete with the suburbs, she said.
6700 Germantown Avenue stood vacant for two years before attracting Johnson's business. Earlier plans plans to fill the space with a home care agency and yoga studio fell through. Gupta said the restaurant will bring 20 new jobs to the neighborhood.
Parker's office plans to put together a steering committee to facilitate communication with Gupta and Johnson. Parker said she hopes that a spirit of partnership can be reached, but ultimately the community has final say.