The Friendly Inn on Frederick Road in Ellicott City can have an outdoor patio despite opposition by some nearby residents, according to a decision by Howard County's hearing examiner.
The owner of the once-rural bluegrass bar must wait to see whether appeals are filed and must obtain permission from the county liquor board, but Jason Cooke is hopeful that he will be able to proceed. The patio would likely open by next spring, he said.
The decision prohibits outdoor music or a roof over the patio and would not allow patrons of an existing snowball stand to use it. Examiner Michele L. LeFaivre's decision requires either a 3-foot-high fence or 3-foot-high planters bordering the 1,128-square-foot patio and limits access to the outdoor seating to and from the restaurant.
Still, the clash that brought dozens of residents from new "active adult" homes nearby to protest the setback variance continues.
"It doesn't fit the character of the community," said Evan Evans, a resident of the Ellicott Meadows senior community who testified against the patio at the zoning hearing in August. Evans and others said they expected the Friendly Inn to remain a quiet neighborhood tavern. It had existed under different names long before the county adopted zoning in 1948.
"The main thing I was concerned about was setting a precedent on setback," Evans said, that could make it easier for Cooke and his partners to eventually redevelop the 1.87-acre site.
Evans said LaFaivre's decision Sept. 10 would prevent some of the noise and nuisance problems that he had feared.
The decision notes that the existing building is only 6 feet from the property line - the same setback requested in the variance request. New structures are now required to be at least 30 feet from the property line.
Cooke said he is thinking of adding a second restaurant and perhaps a small strip of stores when the economy improves.
"It's an underdeveloped piece of land," he said. But now he's concentrating on maximizing the use of the existing restaurant.
"We still have a couple of hurdles to get over," he said. "What was approved is enough to take to the liquor board."