A Towson after-hours club catering to young adults and college students can remain open at least six months longer -- under a ruling by the Baltimore County zoning commissioner.
Commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt's decision did not address the nearly two years of community complaints of loud music and traffic problems -- only whether Club 101 had been operating legally when a county law regulating after-hours establishments took effect in August.
The club is at 8819 Orchard Tree Lane, a neighbor of the strip-tease establishment called Club Manhattan, in the Orchard Tree business park. Formerly an after-hours operation, Club Manhattan on Wednesday was ordered by a county District judge to close by May 31 for violating zoning laws.
After-hours clubs open for business when other nightclubs and taverns close at 2 a.m. Because they operate when liquor laws forbid the sale of alcohol, they don't serve liquor. But customers are allowed to bring their own alcoholic beverages.
In his ruling this week, Mr. Schmidt found that Club 101 was an after-hours club and was operating lawfully when a zoning law regulating such businesses went into effect last year.
Club 101 owner John M. Giorgelli said during a hearing last month that his business was a night club/dance studio. But advertisements tout the operation as an after-hours club.
Mr. Schmidt noted that when the club opened in spring 1993, zoning regulations did not address after-hours clubs. He said Mr. Giorgelli had contacted all appropriate county agencies before opening. The neighborhood complaints were not at issue in the zoning case.
"His testimony is uncontradicted that he left no stone unturned in an effort to ensure that his business could legally operate," Mr. Schmidt wrote.
The new law covering after-hours clubs contains a provision allowing businesses operating legally before Aug. 6, 1994, to continue in operation for a year before they have to seek a special zoning exception to remain open.
Mr. Schmidt denied the county's request for a hearing on a special zoning exception for the after-hours club and on its operation within 1,000 feet of a residence.
The ruling means that Club 101 can wait until August to request a special zoning exception hearing -- with the possibility that a hearing would not be scheduled for several months. Had Mr. Schmidt ruled that Club 101 was a nightclub or something else, as Mr. Giorgelli contended, the owner would not have to seek a special exception.
And even if he loses, Mr. Giorgelli could appeal to the county Board of Appeals, then the Circuit Court and state appellate courts. That process could take several years, with Club 101 remaining in business.
Wayne M. Skinner, past president of Towson-Loch Raven Community Council, said he was satisfied with the decision. "I think due process was served . . . because Mr. Giorgelli did make every effort to find out if his business was legal before opening," Mr. Skinner said.
But Harry Thorn, who lives behind Club 101 on Green Pasture Drive, said Mr. Schmidt's decision was not good news.
"We just don't need businesses like Club 101 around here," said Mr. Thorn, who maintains that noise problems persist. "Looks like we can't do anything about the club right now, but, hopefully, we can eventually get rid of him."
Mr. Giorgelli said his business never has been found to be in violation of any law or regulation. He said the commissioner's decision affirms his contention that he has conducted himself and his business legitimately.
He declined to say if he would seek a special zoning exception when his stay from the zoning regulations ends in August.