Odell's could get permit in time to open next week BALTIMORE CITY

February 25, 1993|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer

The controversial Odell's nightclub could reopen as a restaurant and banquet hall with entertainment by next weekend, if all goes well with the city's permit process, Baltimore's zoning administrator said yesterday.

David C. Tanner, in charge of zoning enforcement for the Department of Housing and Community Development, said city agencies are in the process of reviewing plans for reopening the troubled North Avenue club as a restaurant.

"If everyone signs off on it, it's possible it could be open within a week," Mr. Tanner said.

Mr. Tanner said the club's corporate owner, 19-21 Inc., applied three weeks ago for a permit to operate a restaurant with entertainment on the first floor and a meeting and banquet hall on the second floor at 19-21 E. North Ave.

Those uses are permitted in that district under the city zoning code.

As part of the application, Mr. Tanner said he attached a letter "specifically giving my interpretation of what we're approving, so there's no misunderstanding."

Concerned about what he described as "panicking" neighborhood residents, City Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, introduced legislation Tuesday night intended to slow -- if not eliminate -- the chances for reopening the nightclub.

"I suspect they're using this as a guise to have another dance hall, which obviously is not intended to be permitted in this area," Mr. Ambridge said.

"Odell's has been totally disruptive to the community, and we can't allow that," he said.

But Andrea K. Sugar, an attorney representing 19-21 Inc., took issue with Mr. Ambridge's assessment.

"It's absolutely not a guise," Ms. Sugar said. "We've worked with Mr. Tanner and other city officials to try and clearly describe how it will operate. It is a first-floor, full-service restaurant with collateral entertainment."

And if the permit is issued, Mr. Ambridge's bill may be too late.

"Generally, the Constitution does afford you protection from retroactive legislation," Ms. Sugar said.

But regardless of what happens with his bill, should HCD issue the permit, Mr. Ambridge said, area residents are prepared to file a "negative appeal" with the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals.

Under the bill, restaurants and banquet halls with live or recorded entertainment would become a conditional use in the Charles/North urban renewal area -- which includes Odell's -- requiring the owner to petition the zoning board for its blessing to open.

In Odell's case, such a blessing is considered by many to be unlikely, given that the city tried for two years to shut down the nightspot because of a rash of shootings and violence outside the club and nearby residents' complaints of early morning traffic jams, noise and litter.

Odell's owners shut the doors of the troubled nightspot in August after the zoning board denied the club's application to stay open as a dance hall.

Appeals of that zoning decision and two others -- including the city's 1991 revocation of Odell's permit to operate as a private club -- were consolidated into one case in Baltimore Circuit Court.

And late last month, a Circuit Court judge ruled in the city's favor, enjoining Odell's from reopening without a valid permit.

The city solicitor's office received word yesterday that lawyers for Odell's were appealing that decision to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

Some city officials believed Odell's was gone for good after the club closed in August and, a few weeks later, the president of 19-21 Inc. was indicted by a federal grand jury on a charge of trying to bribe a member of the zoning board.

The president, Milton Tillman, 37, pleaded guilty Feb. 9. Sentencing is April 23.

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