Agreement is finale in falafel flap Couple will move downtown stand

April 15, 1992|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Staff Writer

Bowing to pressure from Water Street property owners and restaurateurs, the owners of a popular sidewalk falafel stand reluctantly agreed yesterday to move to a new location at the corner of Light and Redwood streets.

The move, which takes effect Monday, ends a bitter seven-month zoning dispute that pitted a young couple selling falafel -- a Middle Eastern fried chick pea ball -- against powerful commercial interests that wanted the sidewalk vendors to move from the corner of Light and Water streets.

The controversy brought dozens of nearby business owners, office workers, bankers and politicians to the couple's defense as they flooded the city's zoning office with letters and petitions on their behalf.

Last year, after losing their jobs in the car sales business, the East Baltimore couple -- Vassos Yiannouris and his wife, Maria Kaimakis -- got a city permit to operate the Cypriana Sidewalk Gourmet.

But the growing popularity of the street vendors' Middle Eastern cuisine irritated some other business and property owners in the Water Street area.

Their chief detractor, property manager Barbara Brandt, filed an appeal in September to force the couple's business off the corner. Ms. Brandt works for Robert E. Morrow, a New Yorker who owns three properties on Water Street.

Yesterday, as the parties gathered at City Hall for the third hearing before the zoning board in the past two months, the couple agreed to move.

But Mr. Yiannouris was bitter about the agreement.

"I feel I've been treated unfairly because they [the property owners] have money and they can push their weight around," he said.

Mr. Yiannouris was referring to an earlier zoning hearing when Ms. Brandt's lawyer, George L. Russell Jr., showed the zoning board a map of his client's properties and told board members that his client paid $870,503.90 in property taxes to the city last year.

Mr. Yiannouris also said he is reluctant to move because he worries that his customers won't be able to find him at the new location.

The couple have developed a steady clientele since they began their business. They know many of their customers by name. They know who likes onions and who doesn't. Some customers call in their orders to a portable telephone on the vending cart.

The case grew from a simple dispute into a protracted legal debate between the couple's lawyer, Konstantine J. Previs, and Ms. Brandt's lawyer, Mr. Russell, a former city solicitor and judge.

Mr. Previs argued that Ms. Brandt filed her appeal too late to be legally valid. Mr. Russell filed legal briefs a half-inch thick claiming the city's Hucksters, Hawkers and Peddlers Board, which gave the couple their license, operates under a law that is unconstitutional because the board does not notify nearby property owners when a vendor license is being considered.

Ms. Brandt testified that the Cypriana Sidewalk Gourmet is hurting her ability to rent building space to restaurants.

"I can't imagine a new restaurant coming and putting in $150,000 when there's a restaurant on the corner," she said at a hearing two weeks ago.

Mr. Yiannouris and Ms. Kaimakis did not get a chance to testify before they agreed to settle the case by moving one block.

Neither Mr. Russell nor Ms. Brandt would comment yesterday.

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