The Baltimore County Board of Liquor Commissioners ruled against changing the liquor license at what was formerly Renee's Lounge and Restaurant in Lansdowne from a class B to a class D following the testimony of several community members July 25.
After deliberating for only a few minutes Monday afternoon, the three board members came back and chairman Charles Klein announced they had come to a split decision.
Klein announced that he abstained from voting and the other two members had opposing votes, therefore the reclassification was denied.
"I'm a little upset at the fact that (the board) wouldn't give us a chance to prove ourselves," said Lansdowne resident Rebecca Salgado, manager of the establishment. "We would have hired security, we would have had cameras."
A class B license is for an establishment that makes most of its money from the sale of food, according to a spokeswoman from the Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore County.
A class D license is for bars and taverns and states that minors must leave the premises by 9 p.m., the spokeswoman said.
The ruling comes after the board postponed making a decision a month ago, when the bar at 3911 Hollins Ferry Road first appeared before it.
During the June 27 hearing, a board member said nearly 50 incidents requiring police attention took place at the establishment from 2006 to 2009.
The bar hasn't been open since December.
The board couldn't make a ruling at the first hearing due to a clerical error and because it didn't advertise the hearing properly.
Without such advertising, those supporting or opposing the bar's application to reclassify its liquor license would not have known about the hearing.
During this week's hearing, several community members spoke against the reclassification.
No one from the community spoke for the change.
"The problem there is not just the bar; the problem is that whole shopping center," said Chris Koloski, the second vice president of the Lansdowne Improvement Association. "Unfortunately where (the bar is) located is directly in the middle of our high-crime area, our big problem area."
"I don't care if the pope himself came in and bought Renee's," Koloski said. "They can try as hard as they want. But like we said before, if they ran a tight ship at Renee's, (the problems) move two doors down to the nail salon."
Theresa Lowry, a member of the Southwest Leadership Team, agreed.
"The sad part of it is it's not just Renee's, it's not the new ownership, it's the shopping center," Lowry said. "It's a blight in the middle of a blight."
William Yang, a Howard County resident, has owned Renee's Lounge and Restaurant for the past year and said his establishment never had problems other than the incidents that happened in the shopping center.
He said he is attempting to sell the establishment. But the buyers' group may not purchase it now that its liquor license remains a class B.
Despite hiring a professional kitchen staff and offering quality food, Yang said "it's almost impossible" for the area to support a restaurant at that location.
"I know I can't make it in there. I've tried. People aren't going to come in there to eat," he said.
"It doesn't matter how good of food you have, how cheap the food is," he said. "People aren't going to support it because of the image of the whole shopping center."
Fish Head Cantina to pay fine
The Baltimore County Board of Liquor License Commissioners levied a $250 fine against Fish Head Cantina July 25 for violations of the board's rules and regulations.
During Monday's hearing, the chairman of the board, Charles Klein, said four incidents requiring police officers have occurred at the bar on 4802 Benson Ave. since March.
According to the office of Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents District 1, which includes Arbutus, Fish Head Cantina has been the site of several fights.
Scott Fisher, who works at the bar and is married to the bar's co-owner, Stasia Fisher, testified that the establishment is in the process of improving its security.
In addition to installing eight additional security cameras, the bar has hired off-duty police officers for on-site security, taught its staff crowd control and implemented a dress code, Fisher said.
Fisher added that the restaurant has become more vigilant in monitoring people outside the establishment.
"We realize we're responsible for our customers, no matter where they are," Fisher testified.
After the testimonies, the board deliberated for a few minutes.
"For the number of times you have had issues, we probably would fine you more than we are going to," Klein said. "We are going to fine you $250 in recognition of all of the expenses and efforts that you have made to correct the problems."