When the Tamber's restaurant in Charles Village opened a bar upstairs called The Den in 2007, the community was up in arms and Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke convinced the city to shut down the bar for zoning violations.
Now, Tamber's owners Pardeep Kumar and Harkesh Sharma want to open a Thali-style restaurant serving upscale Indian-Nepalese food in th same space on the second floor.
Again, Clarke is fighting them on the same zoning grounds.
But this time, many community leaders are rallying around Tamber's, located at 3327 St. Paul St.
For now, Clarke has won again, as the city zoning board denied the expansion on Sept. 18, despite letters of support from several community associations.
But the fight appears far from over. City planners, as part of the comprehensive rezoning process, are recommending rezoning the east side of the 3300 block of St. Paul from residential to commercial. Clarke said she will oppose that, too, despite community support.
In the 2007 fight, Clarke was adamant that The Den, a lounge where customers could sit on beds and order champagne, should not have been allowed to open, because Tamber's was originally approved as a nonconforming use in an R-8 zone and the city prohibits more than a 25-percent expansion of a nonconforming use.
"I want the second floor of Tamber's to be closed," Clarke said at the time. "One: It's illegal. The zoning board never allowed for commercial use on the second floor. Two: It's noisy. Three: It's a nightclub — not a restaurant — which is a violation of (Tamber's) liquor license."
Clarke also complained that The Den's noise was a nuisance to Mary Darago, a frail, elderly woman who lived next door to Tamber's. She has since moved, Clarke said.
Last week, Clarke was back before the Municipal Zoning and Appeals Board, again arguing that the second floor was only zoned for commercial use. And, in a strongly worded letter to the board Sept. 15, she argued that The Den was so disruptive that "police joined neighbors in seeking my help in closing the premises."
Clarke also argued in the letter that there was no public need for another restaurant in an area that is already saturated with restaurants and where Johns Hopkins University plans to build a mixed-use complex with ground-floor retail, including restaurants, on a vacant lot at the southwest corner of St. Paul and 33rd streets, a block from Tamber's.
But there were also letters of support from the Charles Village Civic Association, the Greater Homewood Community Corp., the Oakenshawe Improvement Association and the Greenway Community Association.
Greater Homewood "has an interest in supporting appropriate businesses that offer amenities that neighborhood restaurants want," its letter states.
Tamber's owners agreed to change their signage, serve only beer and wine, and limit their hours of operation on the second floor, according to the letters of support.
The owners were also willing to sign a covenant restricting the use of the property so that it could not be used as a nightclub, for example, said Herbert Burgunder III, an attorney representing Tamber's.
But Burgunder said the board ruled that it had no authority to grant the expansion.
"It goes nowhere, unfortunately," he said.
Burgunder and Sharon Guida, who chairs the land use committee of the Charles Village Civic Association, said they hold out hope that the city will amend the zoning on the east side of the 3300 block of St. Paul, from R-8 to C-1, which would allow a restaurant on the second floor.
"I am not for that," Clarke said, reiterating to the Messenger the same arguments as in her letter to the zoning board opposing the new restaurant plans.
Burgunder said the letters of support for Tamber's show that the community forgave Kumar and Sharma for The Den because the owners "worked so hard to gain the neighbors' trust."
But Clarke said, "I do not approve of the way the current owners have managed the property in recent years. I have no confidence in their management of an expanded facility."
Darago moved because the owners bought the elderly resident out and "she couldn't stand to live there anymore. The Den was booming in her bedroom every night," Clarke said.
"This is not about forgiving," she said. "This is about a lesson learned and acting on the lesson learned."