Zoning board delays decision on Fells Point X-rated theater

December 22, 2004|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,SUN STAFF

Will the new owners of a longtime X-rated movie theater in Upper Fells Point be allowed to convert it into a strip club? To be continued ...

An anticipated decision by a city zoning appeals board was postponed yesterday when the lawyer for owners of the Apex movie house, KMI Entertainment, asked for a delay so they could have more time to win over community leaders, who oppose the change in the building's use.

But neighborhood leaders from Upper Fells Point and Washington Hill, who agreed to the postponement, said there is not much that could change their minds. About a dozen residents came to the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals hearing yesterday, ready to protest the proposal.

"I can't imagine in what scenario we'd approve live adult entertainment," said Maureen Sweeney Smith, executive director of Citizens for Washington Hill.

KMI plans a $250,000 renovation of the theater, built in 1942 at 108 S. Broadway. Although the Apex once showed mainstream titles, it has featured adult fare since the early 1970s. KMI's attorney, Fred Lauer, said his clients have upscale plans for the site.

"We want to chat with the community some more and give them a better idea of what we want to do," Lauer said. The hearing will be rescheduled after Lauer meets with residents.

City Councilman James B. Kraft, whose district includes the Fells Point area, said a strip club is not compatible with the community's plans to redevelop that stretch of South Broadway. The city is spending more than $3 million to beautify Broadway's medians, and luxury townhouses are going up a block away in the 1700 block of Lombard St.

Although a theater that shows X-rated movies isn't any neighborhood's ideal, the Apex has peacefully co-existed with the community. Residents aren't sure that would be the case with a live adult venue.

"We can't take the existing use away," Kraft said of the adult movies. "If I could take it away, I'd take it away. But we want to stop it from intensifying."

David C. Tanner, executive director of the zoning board, predicted the board will deny KMI's request because the theater is in a "community business district," and all new adult entertainment spots are relegated to the central business district, which includes The Block on Baltimore Street.

Edward Marcinko Jr. and Gerald Majer, both officers with the Upper Fells Point Improvement Association, figure if the city were to allow the owners of the Apex to transfer its adult entertainment license, someone could buy the old theater and redevelop it into something outside the sex industry.

However, because the city ties adult entertainment licenses to their locations and because there is a moratorium on new licenses, for those who have them, the licenses are extremely valuable.

Realizing the limited options available to the theater's owners, the community is content to talk about compromises with KMI.

"We'll see if we can come up with a mutual compromise that will benefit everyone," Marcinko said. "We'll wait and see what they want to do."

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