600-seat restaurant may be dead N. Baltimore project target of opposition by residents of area

Schmoke retracts support

Neighbors feared establishment would become a nightclub

September 04, 1997|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Bowing to mounting community opposition, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke abruptly withdrew his support yesterday for a megarestaurant in northern Baltimore, in effect killing plans for what residents feared was a front for a nightclub.

Schmoke, who as late as last week supported the proposed 600-seat restaurant at Greenmount Avenue and York Road, withdrew his support for a parking lot that the developer needed in order to open.

The city had granted some building permits and the Department of Public Works director had agreed in an internal letter to lease a DPW parking lot to the developer, George M. Harris.

Last evening, Harris stormed out of a community meeting when a mayoral assistant told cheering residents of Govans, Guilford and other nearby neighborhoods that Schmoke was withdrawing his support for the parking lot.

Schmoke did not attend the meeting.

"I have made a considerable investment," Harris said. "If this is an example of what you do to a young man who goes into business, I don't see this as fair."

But Schmoke's aide, Wendell Sutton, said the mayor changed his mind after learning that Harris allegedly falsified at least two city applications to open the restaurant. He said the mayor believed Harris when Harris told him that the neighborhoods had signed off on the proposal.

Sutton also said the city shares the blame. "Mistakes were made in the city's process," Sutton said. "The city was basing its decision on what [Harris] said."

In Harris' application for occupancy, city planning officials said Harris wrote last winter that he had enough parking space to open the restaurant. He did not, and since has pursued a 23-space parking lot owned by the Public Works Department.

Last week, the city was about to lease the public works parking lot to Harris when neighborhood groups protested loudly. City leaders backed off and deferred consideration until next week. But Schmoke didn't wait.

The mayor wants Harris negotiate an agreement with the community before he will reconsider leasing the lot, Sutton said.

That would be a daunting task for Harris because many neighbors of the proposed restaurant say they don't trust him because of the inconsistencies.

"We are still willing to sit down and talk," said Sedral E. West of the Govans Economic Management Senate, a neighborhood umbrella group. "But this man is asking for something that we don't have at the [Inner] Harbor, and they have conventions down there."

But Harris' supporters, some of whom live outside the affected neighborhoods, said the city is reneging on its intention to see the restaurant project proceed.

"I will be one of the people expecting, demanding and pressuring for an answer," said Olufunmilayo, who owns a dance and ethnic cultural resource center on East 43rd Street.

Democratic State Sen. Joan Carter Conway, whose district includes the neighborhoods, said the city erred in allowing Harris to proceed without the proper parking.

Curiously, most in the nearby communities don't mind a restaurant. They say a successful one could be the economic jump start that the York Road corridor needs.

But their concern is that Harris would open a nightclub, bringing congestion, trash and perhaps more crime to the neighborhood.

Consequently, some of the neighborhood groups drafted a list of demands, including no live entertainment and dancing, and earlier closing hours.

But Harris has been unwilling to agree to the restrictions.

Zoning regulations allow a nightclub where Harris wants to open the restaurant.

Pub Date: 9/04/97

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