Restaurateur Lawrence J. Thanner Jr. gladly welcomed a visitor aboard his "boat," as he called it, pointing out the features of the craft he had just built and lashed to the pier at Dock of the Bay restaurant on Millers Island. The thing has no engine, no sail, tiller or steering wheel, not even a discernible bow or stern.
"This is my boat, my first attempt at boat-building," he said. "Perhaps the next one will be a little different design."
Made of treated lumber, the 12-by-20-foot raft was built and "launched" this month as the latest chapter in Thanner's continuing battle with authorities to offer musical entertainment at Dock of the Bay, a year-round place now entering its busy season. For five years, Thanner has pursued his case for music with county agencies, the Circuit Court, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and the Maryland Court of Appeals — and lost at nearly every turn.
Last summer, a Baltimore County circuit judge found Thanner in contempt of court, ordering him to shut off the music. The Board of Appeals and the Court of Special Appeals had previously ruled that musical entertainment was among the features that qualified the Dock of the Bay as a nightclub, and under zoning rules nightclubs are barred from the area.
Judge Robert N. Dugan's order carries a $5,000 fine and prohibits "any live band, Disc Jockey, karaoke or any other form of live or recorded entertainment" inside or outside the restaurant.
A "boat," though — that's another matter, Thanner said.
"There's nothing in the law against having a band on a boat," he said. "I don't know of any code I would be violating."
Thanner contends that many restaurants feature musical entertainment and that he has been singled out unfairly for enforcement. His protest is reflected in his name for the "boat," which had not yet been painted on: "I call it the 'Baltimore County Anti-Corruption Musical Flotilla,'" Thanner said. He recently had an iPod and speakers playing there on a wooden table under a blue Miller Lite umbrella that he called "my sail."
Neighbors and county officials are not amused. Nearby residents have complained before about loud music and raucous restaurant patrons, and calls to the county about this new development have been coming in.
Two neighbors who have been involved in previous cases involving the restaurant declined to comment for this article.
Lionel van Dommelen, the county's head of code enforcement, said he received "four or five" complaints in late May.
"There's an ongoing investigation," said van Dommelen. "The position of the county is, our jurisdiction extends into the water. We are going to investigate these allegations."
The county's Office of Law supports that view.
"Whether he's on a boat or not, he's disturbing the peace," said County Attorney Michael E. Field.
Assistant County Attorney Adam M. Rosenblatt, who handled the case that resulted in the contempt citation last year, said Thanner's latest tack won't work.
"If he violates the law and the order in ways he's done in the past or in new and creative ways, we're going to be there to make sure he complies," Rosenblatt said.
He said the contempt order was written broadly because "it's supposed to cover any ways [Thanner] can possibly think of, which is why he's so happy about this new idea. He thinks he's found a way around it."
Asked if he plans to have a band playing on the raft for the Memorial Day weekend crowd, Thanner replied, "I don't have any plans. … It's my boat, I'll be using it this summer."