Bar Fight At Fells Point (ii)

April 07, 1994|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Sun Staff Writer

If it's spring, Fells Point must be fighting over bars again.

For the second year in a row, Baltimore officials are considering whether to allow the site of the old O'Malley's Lumber yard at South Eden and Lancaster streets to be converted into an outdoor eating, drinking and entertainment site. And for the second consecutive spring, and despite a new, scaled-back plan, opponents appear to have the developers on the defensive.

The Board of Liquor License Commissioners of Baltimore is in the late stages of pondering a bid by Patrick and Michael O'Malley for a bar-style liquor license. Besides opposing the licensing, which was contested at a hearing in February, the Fells Point Homeowners Association also will fight plans for a conditional-use zoning approval, said Tom Durel, association president.

"We are 100 percent opposed to it," Mr. Durel said. "It's an outdoor bar. There's no apparent way to control the noise, and they intend to keep it open until 2 a.m. in the morning."

The center of the fuss is Parrott Island, which would include an open-air and under-canopy restaurant, an outdoor band shell and a lounge. The developers say the project will bring life to a mostly deserted industrial area separating downtown from historic Fells Point. The neighbors, however,worry that such life may be a little too lively.

That was the problem last year, when neighbors were able to stop plans to build a project called the Good Sports Club on the site. That plan called for an $800,000 restaurant-recreation complex with a capacity of 1,500 people, mixing outdoor volleyball, boccie and horseshoes with dining areas and a concert bandshell.

The plan this time is different, O'Malley's Inc. co-owner Pat O'Malley and general manager Barry Gutin insist. This year's model, with an estimated capacity of 1,000, is "a restaurant and recreational center without any of the sporting aspects, and designed to appeal to a more mature sensibility," Mr. Gutin said. It also would be owned by Mr. O'Malley and his brother, rather than Mr. Gutin, who was in charge of last year's proposed venture.

"Compromise involves movement on both sides," said Liz Chuday, a spokeswoman for the project. "There has been no movement on their side."

Like the Good Sports Club, Parrott Island would operate only in the spring and summer. It is intended to be a cheap-to-develop interim use for land that once was considered a likely site for townhouse or condominium development, Mr. O'Malley said. But the state's economic downturn and the specific problems of waterfront housing developments have stalled the long-term plan. The family closed a lumber yard on the site in 1984.

"The first person to sell will be us when someone with the right money comes along. . . . We moved out of there 10 years ago and have been paying $30,000 a year in taxes on it waiting for people to build houses," Mr. O'Malley said. "We used to run the equipment there in the evening. We probably made more noise than any band is going to make."

The restaurant will be a seafood and Caribbean-oriented sit-down place, Mr. Gutin said. Ms. Chuday said acts tentatively lined up to perform include bands playing Motown and Jimmy Buffett music. The complex also would have regular country nights and a reggae-flavored cocktail hour Fridays. Few or none of the acts are likely to draw the college-aged crowd the homeowners association appears to fear, Ms. Chuday said.

"It's like [the band] Chicago coming to town," she said. "Who goes to those concerts? Us!"

But that hasn't been enough to calm the neighbors, who have lined up some outside support. Officials of the city Police and Planning depart ments spoke against the plan at a Feb. 17 liquor board hearing, said liquor board Executive Secretary Aaron L. Stansbury.

Mr. O'Malley said the developers have been working with those agencies to allay their concerns. Mr. Stansbury said a liquor board decision on the license transfer could come this week. If the transfer is approved, Mr. O'Malley would still need a conditional use approval from the city's zoning appeals commission. No date has been set for that hearing.

"If they're so interested in building a restaurant, why don't they get a restaurant license?" said Mr. Durel. The license proposed for transfer is a bar license for sale by the owners of an establishment in Canton.

Mr. Durel said existing bars and restaurants with liquor licenses in Fells Point already have a total capacity of 5,000 patrons, and that Parrott Island will be about 1 1/2 blocks, or 350 feet (the developers say 450) from the nearest home.

Mr. O'Malley explained that he proposed to buy a bar license because "that's what was available" in the immediate area. He and Mr. Gutin argued that the plan won't create a new level of nuisance in Fells Point because the site isn't in the Fells Point historic district. They said the band shell is being designed to direct as much sound as possible away from the homes, and that bars have been part of the neighborhood fabric since before Mr. Durel or any other opponent moved to Fells Point.

"If you don't want to smell cow [manure] don't move to the country," Mr. O'Malley said. "I've been going into Fells Point for 40 years and it has always been a bar area."

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