Giovanni's owners consider selling building to a church, leaving Edgewood

In its 33rd year, Giovanni's, the prominent Edgewood restaurant, might be moving elsewhere in Harford County, if its owners can sell their property to an adjacent church.

The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Tabernacle of Praise, made the owners of Giovanni's, at 2101 Pulaski Highway, an offer to buy the restaurant so the church could expand into its facility, John Martino, of Giovanni's, said Wednesday.

Frank and John Martino, who own Giovanni's, insisted the restaurant would neither close, nor leave Harford County.

The contract with the church is still up in the air, as a Harford County Council zoning hearing examiner denied the church's request for a setback variance earlier this year.

The church is appealing the decision, and took its case to the county council on Tuesday. Harford County Council members sit as the zoning board of appeals and have the final say in such matters.

The council heard arguments but did not vote on the appeal Tuesday.

John Martino said in a phone interview that even if the deal with the church goes through, Giovanni's would not finalize the sale in 2013.

He said they have looked into locations from Bel Air to Havre de Grace.

If the deal with the church falls through, the restaurant will stay put.

"The bottom line is, we are not going to close and retire," he said, adding they will also definitely stay in Harford. "Everything we have is here."

Giovanni's opened in 1980 and got a larger dining room in 1983.

Robert Lynch, lawyer for Giovanni's, told the county council that the church wants to expand its existence on Route 40 for its growing congregation and the Giovanni's site "is a logical choice."

He said the church has about 100 members.

A church, however, must have a setback of 20 feet from the highway, as it is an institutional use, while a restaurant only needs a six-foot setback, he said.

Lynch said the hearing examiner's denial missed the point, as "the requirement of a 20-foot setback does impact the land disproportionately when it's evaluated against other properties along Route 40."

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