May 9, 2014 at 3:24 PM
Since its opening in 2012, Round Guys Brewery at 324 W. Main St. in Lansdale has overflowed in success and popularity; it is the spot to be at for beer and food during First Friday music events on Wood Street.
Proprietors John Hartman and Scott Rudich see an opportunity to expand its business with outdoor seating outside its front door on Wood Street.
There's only one problem: One foot outside its doors is Lansdale Borough property.
Hartman and Rudich spoke at the Code Enforcement and Land Planning Committee Wednesday to request a deed transfer of the property from Lansdale to building owner Gus Tosco. The building also houses Main Street Pizza and Philly Soft Pretzel Factory.
"While we all believe this will be a great idea and we encourage this type of use of the property, this particular property where Round Guys is located creates some problems," said Community Development Director John Ernst at the committee meeting.
The issue of a tenant using borough property for outdoor seating presents a number of questions, he said. These questions and issues must be reviewed and resolved with borough solicitor Sean Kilkenny, Ernst said, before anything can occur. Ernst told Rudich and Hartman he would report back to them in a matter of weeks.
"I discussed this opportunity with the solicitor and we will be looking at how other businesses throughout the state of Pennsylvania deal with this issue in their downtowns," Ernst said. "It is a very common occurrence, and something most municipalities would encourage. Unfortunately, in this particular spot, we have an added complexity that it is borough property."
Hartman said the proposed outdoor seating area is less than 300 square feet.
"One of the issues we had with this being borough property is liabilities: Who insures it? Who maintains it? We think the solution would be for it to be deeded to the current landowner, who is Gus Tosco," Hartman said.
Hartman said Round Guys' situation is similar to one faced by Molly Maguire's across the street. A portion of Wood Street was deeded to Eugene M. Riccio in order to construct outdoor seating on the Wood Street side of Molly Maguire's.
"A section owned by the borough, as part of the buying agreement, was deeded to the landowner," Hartman said. "We would assume all liability and insurance."
Hartman said Lansdale spends an estimated $850 a year in maintenance and upkeep costs for its portion of property outside Round Guys' front doors.
"We would be maintaining it, and shoveling snow. There would be no weeding, no mulching. So there is a cost savings to the borough," Hartman said.
Ernst told Hartman and Rudich that they do not have any legal standing to ask for the property to be deeded to Tosco; Tosco himself must enter into any such agreement for the exchange to occur.
Ernst said there is also a concern over serving alcoholic beverages outside a property.
"There are container laws throughout the state and in the borough that have to be enforced by the Liquor Control Board," Ernst said. While I would love to have an outdoor seating venue, there is a level of complexity we need to look at."
Ernst also worried about precedence.
"There will be other businesses directly behind you who will be looking for something similar on their property," Ernst said, "whether it is borough-owned property or not."
Ernst just wants to "cover all the bases" to protect against liabilities.
Rudich said Tosco is behind the request and will "insert himself whenever the time is appropriate."
He said he would handle the filing of any paperwork for the LCB for an extension of premises. Such a filing requires public comment and notification at the property. Rudich said Round Guys is in compliance with laws related to serving alcoholic beverages within 300 feet of a nonprofit charity or religious institution.
"It will all be handled in the natural process of things," Rudich said. "The open container law would be handled the same way it is handled at Molly's."
Ernst said the liquor laws come down to private property. Should the property be deeded to Tosco, then there is no issue.
"I don't want to say deeding the land is a solution," Ernst said. "I don't know what it is. We are working with the solicitor on a range of opportunities."
Rudich and Hartman were concerned over being tenants to the borough, as they could face eviction in the future under a specific set of circumstances.
"If you three move on," Rudich said, referring to Code Enforcement Committee members and Councilmen Denton Burnell, Leon Angelichio and Steve Malagari, "and three new people come in, and borough council declares no more outdoor seating, they can evict us."
Ernst also advised there may need to be access to underground utilities, which would require an access easement.
"It's a complicated piece of land for such a small piece of land," Ernst said.
Rudich said there should already be an underground access via a utility box on Wood Street. Hartman said Round Guys would adjust its design to accommodate any necessary underground access.
Burnell said it was a great idea to have outdoor seating, the mumbo-jumbo notwithstanding.
"I'd love to work through the process and find an equitable solution for this," Burnell said. "It's a good spot for us on First Friday and we drive a lot of traffic to you as well."
Burnell said pedestrian and vehicular traffic will increase past Round Guys once the Wood-Vine Connector is completed.
"There's a lot of good reasons to do this. It makes sense," Burnell said.
Angelichio thanked Rudich and Hartman for investing in Lansdale from the beginning.
"I thank you for ... your want to expand," he said. "It's a positive. Hopefully, we let the people who know a lot more about this than we do do their work and come to a solution."
Malagari said the expansion would add value to the business and the downtown area.
"Unfortunately," he said, "we have to go through the legal process."
Ernst suggested Tosco talk to the owners of Main Street Pizza and Philly Soft Pretzel Factory to find out if either one is interested in expanding dining outside along Wood Street.
"You can continue the whole strip up the side. You might want to look at the opportunity to share dining," Ernst said.
Rudich said he is working with a representative from Main Street Pizza on such an opportunity.
An attendee to the committee meeting asked if there is an ordinance on the books prohibiting outdoor dining. Ernst said an ordinance does permit outdoor dining within certain conditions, like it cannot block the sidewalk and any plastic furniture must be brought inside at the end of the night.
The same attendee then suggested the borough create an ordinance to prevent "jumping through hoops" on this issue in the future.
"The primary concern is liability. The borough is responsible for any injuries or trips and falls," Angelichio said. "It's almost necessary to jump through hoops to make this happen."