Federal Hill resident Lane Berk won final city permission yesterday to keep atop her home a controversial 10-foot-tall orange pylon that spells B-A-L-T-I-M-O-R-E.
The city's Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals voted 4-0 to allow Ms. Berk to retain the pylon on the roof of her Montgomery Street townhouse, despite arguments from members of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association that it violates the urban renewal plan for Montgomery Street because it can be seen from the road.
Warning that they don't intend to start letting people put all kinds of objects on their roofs without permission, the board members said that, in this case, they had visited the site and didn't find the pylon as offensive as some of the neighbors have made it out to be.
Sidestepping the question of whether the pylon is art, they said their decisions were guided by Housing Commissioner Robert Hearn's issuance of a permit for it and City Solicitor Neal M. Janey's ruling that the pylon is not a sign but a covering for an elevator shaft.
Two of the panelists said they also received numerous letters from area residents who urged them to allow Ms. Berk to retain the pylon -- an indication, they said, that opponents did not speak for the entire community.
"I didn't believe it was as offensive as it was made out to be," said board member Lalit Gadhia, adding that he had difficulty even seeing it from the street. "It is not a precedent," he cautioned. "We hope there will be harmony in the neighborhood."
Board member Gia Blattermann said she saw the pylon as "more of an enhancement than a detriment" to the neighborhood.
"I hope that it becomes a point for both sides to rally around in the future, so that people who want to put things up on their roof that might be in violation of the urban renewal ordinance will think twice about it," she said.
The zoning board was required to rule after three members of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association contested a decision by Mr. Hearn to issue a permit for the pylon more than two years after it was erected. The board's ruling ends Ms. Berk's multi-year battle to retain the pylon unless the zoning board's decision is appealed and overturned in court.
Ms. Berk left the hearing before the decision was rendered and could not be reached for comment. A friend of hers at the meeting said she became distraught.
Federal Hill residents Richard Leitch and Charles Morton said they were disappointed by the zoning board's decision and would meet with other neighborhood association leaders later this month to decide whether to appeal.