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Federal Hill group cheers rejection of beer garden

Liquor board sides with residents in fight over allowing more drinkers

By Erin Cox, The Baltimore Sun

8:39 PM EDT, June 27, 2013

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Raise one for the no-more-bars crowd in Federal Hill.

A coalition of Federal Hill residents, frustrated by what they see as oversaturation of bars in their neighborhood, persuaded the city's liquor board Thursday to reject a proposed 300-seat beer garden.

The beer garden, which would have replaced four vacant storefronts near the Cross Street Market, became a rallying point for residents fed up with drunken patrons from other bars who, they say, swipe parking spots, smash flower pots and urinate on homes.

The proprietors of the Crossbar Der Biergarten needed to triple the capacity allowed by their liquor license to build the open-air pavilion they envisioned with picnic tables serving German beers and food. They contended they have unfairly become a target of much broader resident frustration with unruly patrons of other bars. Through liquor license expansions, the district has added an average of 127 bar stools per year each year for the past decade, despite a state law banning new bars there.

The new beer garden, the proprietors said, would have enhanced the booming bar and restaurant district.

"Back to the drawing board," Brett Austin, part of the Federal Hill Partners group applying for the expansion, said after the three-member Baltimore City Liquor License Board unanimously rejected the proposal. The group still owns a liquor license allowing it to serve about 100 patrons.

Federal Hill resident Gayle McClure, an IT program manager, was among the approximately 70 residents who displayed opposition the board's chairman called a "compelling" argument that the neighborhood had reached a critical mass of drinkers.

"We feel held hostage on the weekend to the bar patrons," McClure said afterward. "This past weekend, someone broke the flower pots on my steps. I've had to clean up vomit. … We're finally being heard. This is just Step 1. We need to get our neighborhood back."

The decision to deny the proposal came after an impassioned hearing where residents complained of drunken nude flashers in the streets and lawyers questioned whether serving $2 light beers was less responsible than selling pricier craft beers that contain more alcohol.

Four state lawmakers, in a letter, asked the board to refuse any new expansions to liquor licenses unless the bar had negotiated terms with the neighbors.

Liquor board chairman Stephan Fogleman said such an agreement would have assured approval of the beer garden. In its absence, "what really tilted the case was the unprecedented community opposition," he said.

Eric Costello, president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association, which led the fight, said afterward that it was in some ways a hollow victory.

"We can't keep doing this every six months," Costello said. "We should be planting trees together, not fighting it out in front of the liquor board."

ecox@baltsun.com