Boxers PHL, an LGBT sports bar in the Gayborhood, recently filed a civil-rights lawsuit alleging bias by city officials when handling the bar's requests for permission to erect a roof deck.
The 50-page suit, filed April 24 in federal court, has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Juan R. Sanchez. The bar seeks a jury trial.
Numerous city officials are named as defendants, including city Department of Licenses and Inspections commissioner David Perri and various members of the city's Zoning Board of Adjustment.
In January 2015, Boxers sought city approvals for the erection of a roof deck over the rear portion of its first floor, located at 1330 Walnut St.
L&I promptly issued a zoning permit for the deck, and subsequently issued a building permit for the deck. But in April 2016, L&I revoked all approvals, even though most of the roof deck was constructed, according to the lawsuit.
L& I claimed the zoning permit was incorrectly issued because a formal hearing before the zoning board was required. Boxers appeared before the zoning board, which denied approval for the roof deck in February 2017, according to the lawsuit.
Wally Zimolong, an attorney for Boxers, said the bar no longer desires to have a roof deck.
"The entire fiasco was time consuming and expensive--and all the more disheartening because of concerns that anti-LGBT bias was at play," Zimolong told PGN.
He said Boxers' owners spent about $70,000 constructing the roof deck, only to have L&I order that its construction cease.
"We're seeking the amount of money that was expended by Boxers toward construction of the roof deck, attorney's fees, lost profits and an injunction against the city to stop discriminating against LGBT bars," Zimolong said.
The attorney said he reached out last year to the Office of LGBT Affairs for assistance in the dispute, to no avail.
"I reached out to the Office of LGBT Affairs in the summer of 2016 for help in resolving the matter and received no response whatsoever," Zimolong said.
Zimolong said several bars in close proximity to Boxers were granted permission to erect roof decks, without being required to appear before the zoning board.
"There's an allegation [in our lawsuit] that Boxers was treated differently because of its LGBT clientele," Zimolong continued. "City officials approved roof desks at similarly situated bars within the same general vicinity. The only difference was that those bars don't cater to the LGBT community."
Zimolong emphasized that Boxers' due-process rights allegedly were violated by city officials.
"What the city did to Boxers on the due-process end is something that should concern all fair-minded people, regardless of whether they're LGBT," Zimolong said. "As L&I would have it, if they make a decision to revoke a license or permit that you hold, they can do so without giving you an opportunity to challenge that decision before it's made. That's just plain unconstitutional."
Zimolong added: "L&I issued Boxers a valid building permit [in March 2016]. Six days into construction of the roof deck, L&I revoked that permit, without any notice or opportunity to challenge L&I's decision."
Zimolong also questioned whether city officials are treating LGBT bars in a harsh manner due to widely publicized concerns of racism in the Gayborhood.
Lauren Hitt, a spokesperson for the Kenney administration, said in an email: "Though we cannot comment on ongoing litigation, the city fully supports the growth of businesses geared toward the LGBT community."
Zimolong praised his clients. "I'm happy that I represent clients that have the fortitude to see this case through," he concluded. "I think there are many folks who would be intimidated by the city of Philadelphia and wouldn't have the strength to bring this lawsuit."
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