A special exception has been granted by Baltimore County to enable Catonsville businessman Craig Witzke to move forward on plans to convert the historic Candle Light Inn on Frederick Road into a funeral home.
Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen ruled Nov. 25, granting a special exception to allow a funeral establishment in a residential zone, and a variance on setbacks for the current building, a new garage and parking spaces.
In granting the special exception, the judge cited a previous case which allowed a funeral home in a residential zone as an appropriate use.
He said this case meets the requirements for a variance — that the property is unique and that denial of a variance would cause hardship for the petitioner.
"The petitioners have met this test," Beverungen said, noting the property is 6.63 acres with a structure more than 150 years old.
As such, the property is unique," he wrote in his ruling.
He further ruled that rejecting the request for the variance would make it impossible to operate the new business at this location or would require that the current building be razed to comply with zoning setbacks. "An unpalatable alternative," he said.
The judge agreed with neighbors' objections about use of a prefabricated metal building as a garage.
"I would tend to agree, especially given the iconic nature of the Candle Light Inn," he said.
But he added that design decisions were not part of his role. "This is a matter best left to the DOP (Department of Planning) and the petitioners; they can agree upon a design that will function as needed and enhance the appearance of the site," he said.
In addition, Beverungen determined that Residential Transition Area regulations applied to the case because the site is zoned residential and is surrounded mostly by single family dwellings. Witzke had asked whether such RTA regulations applied.
RTAs are designed to protect dissimilar housing types with deeper setbacks and buffers. In this case, the 19th-century structure was built 22 feet from the property line — within the transition area now typically required.
But, he noted, the structure was built before the Baltimore County Zoning Regulations were enacted.
Beverungen said that approval of the variance would resolve the matter.
He ruled to permit an RTA buffer of 22 feet, rather than the required 100 feet for the building and a 33-foot buffer for the garage as well as a setback of 50 feet rather than the typical 75 feet for the parking lot.
In addition, Beverungen ruled that a crematory could not be operated on the premises and that the funeral home had to be located on the 3.69 acre parcel now used by the restaurant.
He further said the building elevations for the proposed garage had to be submitted to the Department of Planning for their approval "to ensure that it is compatible with the neighborhood and existing improvements on the site."
Witzke, owner of Witzke Properties and Craig Witzke Funeral Care, of Catonsville, declined to comment further on plans for the restaurant, which is still open for business.
Witzke has proposed converting the restaurant into a funeral home with three viewing rooms, an office for making funeral arrangements, a lounge and restrooms on the first floor.
The upstairs space would remain private and additional space would be allocated for preparation of bodies.
A garage would be added in a "notch" at the back of the building.
The property is mostly zoned for 5.5 residential units per acre with a narrow strip zoned for only two units per acre.
About 16 Catonsville residents and merchants had attended the hearing held in the Jefferson Building in Towson. Most said they support Witzke's proposal.
A few expressed concerns about traffic, especially at the busy intersection of North Rolling and Frederick roads, as well as the aesthetics of the proposed garage and the loss of the old restaurant.