Proposed disaster-themed restaurant for Key Highway hits another roadblock

Planning committee says design lacks specifics

September 01, 2000|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

The Crash Cafe, a disaster-themed restaurant proposed for Key Highway that would feature part of a crashed and smoking DC-3 plane jutting out of the side, was dealt another setback yesterday.

Owner Pat Turner thought he would get approval for his building permit yesterday, but a city interagency planning committee kicked the project back to him, saying his plans lacked specifics, such as fencing and pavement details for a parking lot.

Turner had expected to have opened the restaurant - located at the defunct Globe Brewing Co. at 1321 Key Highway - which he describes as a "theatrical adventure," and others call offensive and distasteful - in the spring.

Now Turner must present the interagency Site Plan Review Committee with more details about the seven proposed parking spaces his customers will have to cross Key Highway to use. He also has to go before the Design Advisory Panel, which meets Sept. 14.

Turner is a Baltimore-based developer who heads Crash Concepts Inc. and wants to make the harbor-side Crash Cafe the first in a national chain of restaurants that would tap into the public's rubber-necking fascination with "crashes, collisions and other forms of destruction."

Turner has been trying to open the cafe; for more than two years and says he has spent $500,000 since he began efforts to develop the restaurant. He also has faced opposition from some neighbors and community leaders who say they are disgusted with the concept.

Since December, Turner has searched for a place to put 11 parking spaces within 300 feet of the cafe on Key Highway, which city officials require for the site. He has four spots next to the cafe; and plans to lease seven across Key Highway at an auto body repair shop.

For a restaurant this size - 17,000 square feet - the city zoning code normally would required about 50 parking spaces. But the previous owner got a zoning variance, which still applies to the site.

That leaves neighbors worried about parking problems in an area already crunched for space.

"It will be damaging to community. Where are those people going to park?" asked Dick Leitch, president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association.

City planning director Charles C. Graves III said yesterday's decision had nothing to do with the concept of the cafe;, which has become a hot-button issue in the surrounding areas of southern Baltimore.

Some neighbors and community leaders question the taste of a restaurant where diners will watch 48-foot-high video projections of collisions as they dine.

The crash concept has gotten national media attention as Turner has tried for two years to secure a site in Baltimore for the restaurant.

The cafe; also attracted the eye of survivors of accidents across the country.

Gail Dunham, president of the National Air Disaster Alliance/Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based group that represents people who have lost loved ones in more than 70 air crashes, said the idea is a painful one for her.

"We have this problem in the United States that we allow people to make money at any cost," she said. "He is trying to capitalize on death and destruction, and that is wrong."

But by Turner's estimates, the cafM-i doesn't cross the line.

"It's just fun stuff," he said. "Action movies are make-believe."

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