It’s the last call for many streets in Philadelphia.
This week, city officials will begin cracking down on parking lot dining structures, issuing citations to businesses that don’t apply for licenses and requiring a dizzying menu of new regulations.
At the height of the street boom in 2020 and 2021, more than 800 restaurants built some kind of structure to keep business afloat during the worst of the pandemic. Many have sunk tens of thousands of dollars into buildings decked out with ambient lighting and propane heat to keep patrons comfortable in all four seasons.
Only a small number will survive. As of Monday’s effective date, only 50 restaurants had submitted applications to become street legal, officials told The Inquirer, but declined to name the applicants. None have yet been approved, and confusion over the process remains — the result of lengthy negotiations to bring the unregulated street scene up to code.
Deputy Streets Commissioner Rich Montanez said the city provided ample relief before enforcement. Restaurants will now be told to apply for licenses or face fines for non-compliance.
“This is my final, final warning,” Montanez said. “Anything we see as a safety hazard on the way there — not well maintained, slip hazards, broken signs — we’ll cite that.”
» READ MORE: Philly restaurants reluctantly tear down streets ahead of city crackdown No license has been approved yet.
But even restaurants trying to comply with the new law remain in the dark about what’s allowed.
For example: If you have applied for a license, can you operate your existing structure without penalties until your application is approved?
The answers varied.
Ben Fileccia of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association said he’s under the impression that as long as restaurants submit applications, they can avoid fines for now. Montanez echoed the same sentiment in an interview with The Inquirer on Monday.
“[An unlicensed streetery] is automatic grounds for a citation,” Montanez said. “But we ask them if they plan to legalize it, then they go into the system and apply, and then we say, ‘Here’s the process.’ “
However, the Streets Department’s website states that “from January 9, 2023, all unauthorized street installations must also be removed.” No licenses were issued on Monday, officials said, as the application was still being approved.
Asked for clarification, Streets officials later confirmed that restaurants can indeed continue their current street stalls without fines as long as they have pending applications.
Too little, too late for Stina Pizzeria.
The South Philly restaurant is one of 50 restaurants applying for the license. But owner Bobby Sarisoglu said his existing structure did not meet the new regulations, so he demolished it on Sunday. stay in good standing with the city.
Stina posted an elegy for her street on Instagram, drawing condolences from Snyder Avenue regulars. On Monday, the Enquirer notified owners of exemptions for license applicants.
“It’s heartwarming to hear that,” Sarısoğlu said. “If we didn’t have it, we were afraid we would be fined.”
He had already put $10,000 into building the street, including running power lines under the sidewalks, and then spent another $5,000 to tear it down and move it. If he had known, he said, he would have kept his current street in operation until his application was approved, then immediately rebuilt it according to regulations. new rules.
Fileccia of the restaurant association said communication could be clearer.
“[The city] wants to move people in this process, but they can’t give anything black and white,” said Fileccia. “Restaurant owners need the black and white stuff.”
Many entrepreneurs do not bother with the license application.
Some reluctantly hit the streets last month, well ahead of the deadline, and reported. frustration with city officials saying goodbye to outdoor dining spots that helped survive the pandemic and remain popular with patrons.
Some took the new rules as a dragon. Between architectural restrictions, a $1,750 annual license fee and an outright ban on gas heaters and power lines, some say the rules are designed to drive all but the wealthiest and largest restaurant chains off the street.
Street officials stressed that the application portal will be open year-round and restaurants can apply at any time to start the approval process.