Zoning panel denies change for business

Board asks owners of former hotel for details on tenants

July 08, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

A man trying to develop the first floor of a former hotel on Taneytown's main square has been denied a zoning change until he can say exactly what kind of business will rent the space.

But co-owner Keith Reed says the Zoning Board of Appeals' denial makes it harder to recruit retail and professional tenants and seems inconsistent with the city's stated need for more offices and shops.

"We need to know what we have before we come in and start doing a lot of work," said Reed, who, with his wife, bought the building this year.

The hotel, at 4 York St., is in a local business zone restricted to certain uses; in 1990, it was transformed into 19 apartments.

Reed wants to return the first floor to business uses, such as an antique shop, coffee house or professional offices.

But the building has been a trouble spot in the past, and neighbors told the appeals board June 16 that they feared a return to the 1980s, when patrons of a bar in the building caused trouble.

Despite testimony from Reed and his wife, and support from staff at City Hall, the appeals board denied his request a week later, in a written decision that says he may reapply when he can say specifically what business he wants to put there.

It must be a use "suitable and compatible with the neighborhood," and Reed must say how many square feet the businesses will use, according to the decision.

"I'm a pro-business person," said Larry Whitaker, one of the three members of the appeals board. "But I also want to be sensitive to the concerns of the neighbors."

He emphasized that the board denied the request "without prejudice," which is not a typical denial. It gives Reed a better position to make another request.

"They've done a lot of good work on the building," Whitaker said. "We don't see any problem, as long as they are more specific. The neighbors don't want to go back to what they had in the '80s."

Taneytown Mayor Henry Heine, who is familiar with the Reeds from their attendance at the Taneytown Business Breakfast, said he was surprised by the appeals board's decision. The Reeds have put more work into the building -- including exterior improvements such as a new roof and rear deck -- than any previous owner, according to Heine.

"The mechanics of the whole thing seem to be a misunderstanding on all parts," Heine said. The building's past as a trouble spot has neighbors and the board on the watch, and Reed may have not realized how important it would be to make his request specific, he said.

At the same time, Heine said, the appeals board could have granted him a zoning change with stipulations, such as prohibiting the sale of liquor on the premises.

The appeals board acts independently of other city boards and the mayor.

The only recourse Reed has is to reapply, or to fight the decision in Carroll County Circuit Court. Reed said he'll first focus on repairs and scouting for tenants.

Reed and his wife, Cinda, form KCR, LLC. They own another residential rental property on East Baltimore Street.

In January, they began attending the Taneytown Business Breakfast once a month and heard people talk about the lack of retail and professional space in the city's historic downtown, and of the town's efforts to attract more businesses. They bought the old hotel in February, Reed said, and have spent at least $50,000 fixing the residential units on the second and third floors.

They have left the first floor, about 3,500 square feet, mostly unchanged, until they know what tenants they will attract and what kind of space they would need.

"We don't have any intentions of putting anything in there that conflicts with the zoning in this area," Reed told the appeals board. "We're not trying to have a flophouse or a bar or anything like that."

Before he spent money advertising, he said, he wanted to convert the first floor for businesses, to be able to attract tenants. In 1990, a previous owner got a zoning exemption to turn the building into apartments.

At the time, neighbors had complained about the bar that occupied the first floor.

Some of those neighbors, like Lisa Hersh and James Farley, told the appeals board that the bar's patrons were often loud and disruptive, and sometimes urinated in neighboring yards.

They and appeals board members expressed concern that an unqualified change back to local business would open the door for such problems again, especially if Reed were to sell the building. It has changed ownership four times since 1987.

The building has 19 apartments, including seven on the first floor. The second- and third-floor apartments have been fixed up, with damaged flooring and soiled, malodorous carpets ripped out and walls repainted.

Some tenants who had caused problems were evicted, Reed said.

Marvin Flickinger, who owns a barbershop near the hotel on East Baltimore Street, testified at the appeals hearing that it was unfair that Reed should even have to go so far.

Because the hotel is in a local business district, Reed should be able to revert to that zoning designation without conditions, he said.

"I'm here because I don't feel this hearing is necessary," Flickinger said. "I'm not here representing these people. I do not know them, they do not know me. What you're doing is interfering with a man's legitimate right to private enterprise."

Later, in an interview, Flickinger said the issue affects him as a downtown business owner.

"One, I think it's wrong," he said. "Two, I'm a businessman downtown, and I know that one business place feeds off another business place."

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