Wine bar wins OK for cafe expansion

Developer, neighbors negotiate an agreement


November 25, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

An upscale wine bar and cafe on Route 108 received permission yesterday to expand after neighbors dropped opposition in exchange for covenants that prohibit further additions or applications for rezoning for the next three decades.

County Hearing Examiner Thomas P. Carbo approved a proposal to build a 540-square- foot enclosed addition to the Iron Bridge Wine Company, across from preserved agricultural land on the northern boundary of Columbia. Carbo also granted variances to allow construction of the addition and parking within the setback from Route 108.

At the hearing, Iron Bridge developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr. described the details of the negotiated agreement: For the next 31 1/2 years, the property will be developed only as indicated in the plan, and the owner will not apply to rezone it; an existing barn will be used only for storage; and berms, fences and landscaping will be installed to buffer nearby homes.

"The plan you see before you is the result of a lot of hard work and compromise and good intentions," Reuwer said.

But a representative for nearby homeowners said that he and his neighbors felt they were bullied into the decision by the action of elected officials.

"I can tell you this - they're not happy," said Anthony "Skip" Scarpone, who lives on Route 108 and helped spearhead the opposition."We felt we were forced to a decision. We had no choice in the matter."

The Iron Bridge Wine Company opened in May in a renovated 1,744- square-foot building that once housed the sleepy Crown's Pub. Because that business existed before the county established zoning laws, it was allowed to operate in a residential district as a "nonconforming use," which allows expansion of the facility's space by up to 100 percent.

Reuwer first applied for approval of an outdoor seating area. That petition was amended to be an enclosed dining room addition.

He also requested a change to commercial zoning through Howard's comprehensive rezoning process.

Residents' concerns

Neighbors adjacent to the property as well as residents of Longfellow in Columbia's Harper's Choice village and the Beaverbrook community, a Columbia outparcel, vehemently opposed the plan.

Many expressed concerns about increased traffic and the possibility of a domino effect of further commercial development on Route 108, a two-lane road leading to rural west Howard.

Residents were negotiating with Reuwer when the County Council indicated during a rezoning work session that it would support a change to commercial zoning.

Because of the vote, Scarpone said he worked through the weekend to get the final draft of the agreement approved by neighbors.

Carbo said at the end of the hearing that he would grant the variances because the location of the pre-existing structure and because the shape and size of the lot qualify as a practical difficulty.

After the hearing, Reuwer described the agreement as an example of how residents and developers can work together.

Welcome addition

He also said that neighbors have realized the Iron Bridge is less threatening than they thought it would be.

"They've grown to see what it is and how it operates," Reuwer said after the hearing. "More and more it's perceived as an amenity."

The Iron Bridge's owners agree. The cafe is so popular that people risk parking across the street at the Clark farm, said Robert Wecker, who opened the business with his brother Steve.

Wecker said he sets up traffic cones to discourage them, because without the addition, they have only enough space inside the wine bar for the number of parking spaces outside.

"It's insane," he said.

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