Main Street Tower owners Renato Buontempo and Richard Lynch went before the Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners Tuesday night to request permission to put their restaurant's rooftop deck tent back up for the upcoming St. Patrick's Day festivities.
Speaking during the town meeting, Buontempo said he is in the process of planning to build a permanent roof for the upper-level deck of his popular seafood and classic Italian cuisine restaurant and hopes the town will allow him to put the tent back up temporarily for the upcoming holiday.
"We are economically impacted," Lynch explained. "Without this tent we have missed dates that are irreplaceable."
In March 2013, the commissioners passed an ordinance to update the town's building codes. One of the changes prohibited rooftop deck tents, Planning Director Kevin L. Small said in a previous interview.
According to Article 204-3 of the town building code, membrane structures on building roofs are prohibited within the town limits, citing State of Maryland fire codes.
Before the town code was updated, Buontempo said, every year he would apply for a permit to put the tent on the roof for a period of about 180 days during the holiday season, extending from around Halloween through New Year's Eve. During this time, the restaurant would hold outdoor holiday events in the colder months of the year.
In a previous interview, Buontempo said he had to fire staff after getting rid of the tent last year because he was not been able to host all of his annual holiday events.
Town Administrator James Fielder said to change the code back, the commissioners would have to pass another ordinance overturning the existing one.
According to Fielder, the Tower's rooftop deck tent should have been up only for the 180 days allotted by the permit.
"The tent had to come down at a certain point and it didn't come down," Fielder said. "Now, it's how do we prevent the tent from getting up there."
Buontempo said when he was called by Police Chief Leo Matrangola to remove the tent, he had it taken down immediately. He said he was not even made aware the commissioners were going to vote last March to amend the town's building codes.
Charles B. Keenan Jr., legal counsel for the town, said the file between Main Street Tower and the Town of Bel Air reflects that the owners of the restaurant were sent letters about the 180-day period they could have the tent erected.
Keenan said the town is not responsible for notifying residents and business owners if new legislation may have a specific impact on them. He said all information about upcoming legislation is posted on the town's website. He noted the ordinance changing the town's building code was open for a public hearing before the commissioners voted to approve it last year.
"The town does not single out particular people who may be affected by this ordinance," Keenan said. "We don't give notification to particular people that the ordinance may affect them because we might leave people out."
Lynch told the commissioners that the changes in regulations feel like a personal attack against him and Main Street Tower.
"If we did something wrong, we would like to know what it is," he told commissioners.
Lynch said Main Street Tower was the only restaurant in Bel Air with a rooftop deck tent. Matrangola pointed out that the former Dark Horse Saloon, now Main Street Oyster House, once had a tent.
Like Fielder, Keenan said the commissioners would have to approve new legislation to amend the existing ban on rooftop deck tents, even for a special occasion.
"We would need a new ordinance drafted and presented," the town lawyer said.
Mayor Robert Reier told the Tower owners that he would continue to look into the matter.
Buontempo and Lynch, however, left the meeting not knowing whether they would be able to use a tent for St. Patrick's Day, a scant 27 days away.