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Zoning board approves plans to expand Senator Theatre

Kathleen and James "Buzz" Cusack's plans to continue operating the Senator Theatre as a commercial first-run movie house while adding a restaurant, crepe shop and an additional auditorium with a second screen won approval Tuesday from the city zoning board.

The Cusacks sought to continue using the Senator as a movie theater with the addition of a restaurant in a vacant space on the northern side of the property. They also requested a variance to expand to the western edge of their rear lot – adjacent to a residential zone – in order to accommodate their second theater. Baltimore City Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals officials informed the Cusacks of their decision Wednesday.

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"We are grateful for the overwhelming show of support by the community as well as the board's gracious approval of our requests," Kathleen Cusack wrote in an e-mail. "We continue to look forward to the future of the Senator."

At the hearing, Kathleen Cusack produced 30 letters of support from individuals and neighborhood business and community organizations. Michelle LeFaivre, speaking on behalf of Elsinore Village, and city councilman Bill Henry, also appeared in support of the Cusacks.

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During the session, the board's executive director, David Tanner, acknowledged letters sent by former Senator owner Tom Kiefaber and Laura Perkins objecting to insufficient notice for the meeting. But the board noted that proper notice had been given under the rules. (A sign announcing the meeting had been posted at the Senator since late November.)

The Cusacks must still firm up their financing for the expansion. Last summer they filed applications for federal and Maryland tax credits with the Department of the Interior and the state preservation office. They expect responses by the end of the year.

Though they've earned approval for their general concept from Baltimore City's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, the Cusacks must still win that group's endorsement for their detailed plans.

In the meantime, Kathleen Cusack said today, "We've been thrilled to be playing the Harry Potter movie. It's helped get the word out that we're open for business and generate excitement for the theater."

"All Good Things," starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst, will follow Harry Potter into the Senator on Dec. 17. "True Grit," starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin, will be the Senator's Christmas attraction.

(Pictured at top: The Senator Theatre. At bottom: Buzz Cusack outside the theater. Baltimore Sun photos by Lloyd Fox.)

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