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Instead of a press conference to undermine the results of a presidential election, the Northeast Philadelphia parking lot of Four Seasons Total Landscaping on Saturday hosted a couple hundred people for a different reason: a live music concert.
The show, featuring Florida punk rocker Laura Jane Grace with an opener by Chicago vocalist Brendan Kelly, sold out in 17 minutes flat when it was announced on July 8.
But it almost got shut down before it even started.
A day after the show was announced to glowing national coverage from publications like Rolling Stone, The Hill, Pitchfork, and Variety, an anonymous Philly resident filed a complaint with the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections, seeking to put a stop to the whole idea.
Over a month later, an L&I inspector paid a visit to Total Landscaping, and broke the news to Sean Middleton, Total Landscaping director of sales:
You didn’t file for the proper permit, the inspector announced, so you can’t hold this event.
“I was worried,” said Middleton, a 35-year-old Bucks County native who’s also the person behind the brand’s irreverent Twitter account. “You’d think the city would want to not make this hard, considering all the positive press.”
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With the sold-out concert less than a week away, it suddenly seemed in jeopardy.
“We thought we had gotten the right event permit,” Middleton told Billy Penn. He and his colleagues, business owners Marie and Mike Siravo, had already alerted Councilmember Bobby Henon’s office and the 15th Police District, he said. “We wanted everyone to be aware.”
After a lot of back-and-forth, he was able to work with local authorities to wade through the regulations and get the situation straightened out.
“We’ve taken all the right precautions, we’re doing all the prep work, dotting our Is and crossing our Ts,” Middleton said Thursday. “The permit’s in our window. The event has now been blessed by the city, we’ll say.”
He described Port-a-Potties lined up for concert-goers, and new stone laid down throughout the lot. At the gates, which open at 12 noon for the 1 p.m. show, event booker Dave Kiss Productions will be checking for proof of vaccination, and asking people without to mask up. Security has been hired, and a site schematic has been submitted to the city.
It all came together with help from Councilmember Henon’s office, Middleton said, crediting them with helping convince the city to let the show go on.
The initial problem? To hold an event like this in Philadelphia, the property owner needs to obtain an “assembly and entertainment permit,” according to city spokesperson Kevin Lessard. But as the anonymous neighbor’s complaint observed, that type of permit isn’t allowed in the 1-2 zoning district that encompasses Total Landscaping’s address at 7339 State Rd. L&I does have the authority to grant temporary zoning approval, Lessard said, but there’s a bunch of paperwork that needs to be filed, along with a formal request.
In the end, Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Ralph DiPietro himself made a special exception for Total Landscaping — though he also made clear it won’t happen again.
“This shall be considered a one-time exception,” city spokesperson Lessard said. “If they wish to hold subsequent events, a zoning permit and possibly a special assembly license will be required.”