City zoning board unanimously approves making Bohager's bar major music venue

March 04, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

After more than two hours of spirited testimony, the city Board of Municipal Zoning Appeals voted unanimously last night to support the controversial transformation of a Fells Point restaurant into a major music venue.

The 5-0 vote allows Damian Bohager, operator of Bohager's Bar and Grill at 515 S. Eden St., to keep his elevated concert stage despite community opposition.

"The evidence shows that if we denied this use, there would be a serious adverse impact on [Bohager's] business," said Carolyn B. Joyner, a board member.

Bohager told the board that without the stage "you probably wouldn't see Bohager's anymore."

The restaurant employs about 80 people full time and pays about $500,000 annually in taxes to the city and state, he said.

The board voted after a heated debate in a packed City Hall conference room.

Six people -- including the president-elect of a Fells Point community group and two city councilmen -- testified against Bohager's. Two people spoke up for the restaurant.

The vote thrilled Bohager, who said he was "very pleased" with the board's decision.

"Now that I've won the zoning appeal, I'd like to figure out a way to address the community's concerns," Bohager said.

Residents have been complaining about Bohager's since it opened in July 1992. They have repeatedly told city officials that the restaurant produces excessive noise and attracts underage drinkers and rowdy patrons. More than 250,000 people visit his establishment each year, Bohager said.

"When patrons leave, they deposit litter everywhere," testified Wade Price, who lives in the 400 block of S. Eden St. "They're loud, screaming and engage in public fights. I've had to call the police on several occasions."

In the past four months, officers have been called to Bohager's 31 times, police records show. The complaints ranged from property crimes to disorderly conduct and assault.

The Police Department opposed Bohager's zoning appeal.

"We are opposed to anything that would expand these types of businesses," Sgt. William G. Roland testified. "In the Southeastern District, we have 25 percent of all the liquor license establishments in the city."

The neighborhood has 113 liquor licenses in 114 blocks, according to liquor board records.

In reaching their decision, several members of the zoning board said they considered the community's concerns but concluded that the evidence did not prove that Bohager's concerts have an adverse impact on the area.

The board adopted several recommendations made by the city Planning Department, including a proviso that Bohager obtain a long-term lease for adequate parking. As of last night, details of the parking agreement were being negotiated.

"There are just a few minor details that need to be worked out," Bohager said. He expects to iron out those details "in the next few days."

The board also gave Bohager permission to enclose an outdoor deck, transforming it into an indoor dining area. The change will reduce noise, board members said.

The board's decision outraged Bohager's neighbors. More than 180 people had signed a petition opposing the restaurant's expansion.

Said Price: "It seems a shame that the city agencies are more concerned with the needs of the businesses than they are with the the needs of the residents. Mayor [Kurt L.] Schmoke is constantly saying that the city needs to maintain and increase its residential tax base. Today's decision certainly flies in the face of that."

Pub Date: 3/04/98

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