‘Dance party’ at Cherry Street Pier riles waterfront condo neighbors

Residents of Pier 5 claim the space isn’t properly licensed. City officials disagree.

Municipal Pier No. 9 was transformed into the Cherry Street Pier by the DRWC in autumn 2018

Municipal Pier No. 9 was transformed into the Cherry Street Pier by the DRWC in autumn 2018

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn
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Updated 4:35 p.m.

Over the weekend of April 19, the newly renovated Cherry Street Pier hosted a “dance party” that nearly sent some waterfront condo owners overboard.

Residents at Pier 5 Condominiums, a gated complex that stretches out over the Delaware River adjacent to Cherry Street, have been raising a stink about whether the pier is properly licensed to throw big events with music and alcohol. The complaints come at a time when the underused riverfront — long quarantined from the city grid by I-95 — is finally seeing new life and development.

Some Pier 5 residents downloaded apps on their smartphones and tablets to measure the decibel level of the bash, which concluded before midnight.

“The noise was just intolerable,” said Dr. Wendy Magee, a resident at Pier 5. “The walls were shaking.”

Delaware River Waterfront Corporation president Joe Forkin said it was an “unfortunate” one-time incident — and the only dustup the pier has caused with neighbors since the public arts and retail space opened in October. The DRWC will monitor music volume at all events going forward, he said.

The noise complaints stirred up what some neighbors describe as a pattern of mismanagement and deception around the planned programming at the pier, who say DWRC promised there would never be parties, let alone the occasional outdoor beer sales.

“We were assured over and over again that this wouldn’t be used as a venue for events like this, so there’s some duplicity in that,” Magee told Billy Penn. “There’s been a lack of respect for people living around this space.”

Officials say activities at the pier are up to code.

Is Cherry Street Pier licensed up?

Despite being promoted as a “dance party” to attendees, Forkin said the April gathering was a cultural event capping off a month-long show hosted by one of the pier’s resident artists. Public art events are consistent with the pier’s mission — and its zoning.

The waterfront piers — including the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing and Spruce Street Harbor Park — generally operate as public spaces, which are sometimes used for private events, Forkin said.

Most of the waterfront was rezoned under the Central Delaware Overlay to encourage a variety of mixed-use developments along the river. The CMX-3 zoning designations allow for a broad range of activities, from retail strips to recreation centers to restaurants. By right, Cherry Street can operate as a cultural exhibit space, a retail hub and other functions.

City records also showed permits that allow Cherry Street Pier to serve food and operate as a “sidewalk cafe” with al fresco table seating.

The far end of Cherry Street Pier is an open-air garden

The far end of Cherry Street Pier is an open-air garden

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

‘A garden with beer being sold’

Magee said she generally adores the pier and wants to support the artists who call the space home, but residents were told in 2017 that it would not become a bar or beer garden space. “The fact is that it is a garden with beer being sold” is a problem, she said.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board confirmed that Penn’s Landing LLC holds a liquor license. Records show the license comes with an associated off-premise permit (like those used at pop-up beer gardens around the city) to sell alcohol at a catered function for up to 52 days per year, for limited hours of the day. Forkin said vendors are only selling alcohol during four- or five-hour periods on weekends right now, plus at pre-scheduled events.

As for throwing night events that may or may not be classified as parties? There’s a mutual understanding between the Department of Licenses and Inspections and the pier managers, both parties confirmed.

L&I is not requiring a special assembly license for big gatherings on the pier. That license is reserved for more “nightclub-type” activities, said spokesperson Karen Guss. She added that the department will monitor the evening event situation going forward, but that there’s some latitude under the zoning status and the use of the pier as a mostly public park.

“This is because as it is a DRWC-owned space operating primarily for use by the public, like Dilworth Park, there is a certain amount of social entertainment and activity that is natural and expected,” Guss said.

There is no official group organizing behind the neighbors’ concerns. Magee said the board of condominium residents at Pier 5 has been entangled in another debate with DRWC over safety issues concerning cyclists around the building entrances.

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