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Developer pulls plan for rooftop bar in Fells Point after outcry from neighbors

A developer wants to build an Italian restaurant in one of the most historic blocks of Fells Point. The plans for initially presented for 1724-26 Thames St., seen left of center, included a rooftop bar, which angered neighbors. The developer pulled back plans for a rooftop bar but has not ruled it out.

A Baltimore restaurateur has scratched plans — for now — for a third-story rooftop bar in one of the most historic blocks of Fells Point after nearby residents pushed back, even going so far as to sue.

With those plans off the table, Baltimore’s liquor board has approved the transfer of a liquor license for Prima Dopo, another step forward for the planned Italian restaurant in the 1700 block of Thames Street being developed by Dominic Lascola, who runs two restaurants in Canton.

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Lascola set off a firestorm among nearby residents after his company released plans last year for the rooftop bar offering views of the harbor.

The bar would be above the restaurant planned for a property that has housed the Historic Preservation Society for Federal Hill and Fells Point for two decades. A company formed by Lascola purchased the unique T-shaped property that fronts Thames Street, but also reaches Lancaster and South Ann streets, from the preservation society for $1.6 million in December 2020, city property records show.

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A developer wants to build an Italian restaurant in one of the most historic blocks of Fells Point. The plans initially presented for 1724-26 Thames St., seen in the center with a blocklong roof, included a rooftop bar, which angered neighbors. The developer pulled back plans for a rooftop bar but has not ruled it out.

Leading the charge against Lascola’s restaurant plans is Cliff Ransom, a 76-year-old research analyst who owns a home across Ann Street. Neighbors are concerned about parking, trash, noise and rowdy crowds, but Ransom said the real issue is much bigger.

“This is all about governance. This is all about stewardship,” Ransom said outside his rowhouse in the 800 block of South Ann Street, which he believes dates to at least 1800. “Any other city in America would treat Fells Point like a jewel. We are a time capsule.”

The restaurant property, for example, is next door to the Robert Long House, a two-story home built in 1765 on South Ann Street, that the preservation society says is the oldest surviving building inside Baltimore’s original city limits.

As he spoke to a Baltimore Sun reporter Wednesday, Ransom stopped a neighbor and asked whether he’d written a letter to the liquor board yet.

He had not.

“Goddamn it,” Ransom told him. “Write it.”

A rooftop bar would violate rules on maintaining the historic look of the neighborhood, Ransom said, pointing out rules on windows, rain pipes, front steps and molding.

The Robert Long House served as a home and office for Long, who was a quartermaster for the colonial Navy and operated a nearby wharf.

But the organizations overseeing historic preservation apparently disagreed.

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Last March, the Maryland Historical Trust decided to allow the developer to dig test pits to see whether the building could support a third-story rooftop bar. Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation gave preliminary approval for the plans in April.

Neighbors filed two petitions in Circuit Court to stop the rooftop bar. Ransom was the lead plaintiff.

Around that time, plans changed.

The new plans for Prima Dopo stop at the second floor. They no longer contain plans for an attached market and deli and the rooftop bar is gone, too.

But the developers have not ruled it out.

“While we still may pursue the rooftop addition at a later date, that part of the discussion is off the table for this submission,” architect Robert Lopez told CHAP in a June email.

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Caroline Hecker, an attorney representing Prima Dopo, told The Sun on Wednesday that Lascola listened to the Fells Point community and that Ransom is misleading his neighbors.

“I’d never say never, but the current plan does not include a roof-top bar,” Hecker wrote in an email.

Hecker told the liquor board at its meeting Thursday that the restaurant will have about 50 employees and cost about $1.5 million to develop. She said it will seat 125 people, feature live music and DJs, and stay open until 2 a.m. on Thursdays through Sundays.

But the attorney emphasized that Prima Dopo will be a restaurant, not a bar or a nightclub.

A developer wants to build an Italian restaurant in one of the most historic blocks of Fells Point. The plans for initially presented for 1724-26 Thames St., seen left of center, included a rooftop bar, which angered neighbors. The developer pulled back plans for a rooftop bar but has not ruled it out.

The Fell’s Point Residents Association blessed the new restaurant in a Feb. 21 letter to the liquor board — so long as Prima Dopo doesn’t include a rooftop bar.

But 29 people wrote letters to the board opposing the transfer of the liquor license for Lascola’s restaurant. And Ransom and two other neighbors testified against the restaurant at the hearing.

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The commissioners unanimously approved a transfer of liquor license to one of Lascola’s employees.

Ransom and his neighbors are continuing to fight the restaurant. A Circuit Court judge dismissed their cases against CHAP and the Maryland Historical Trust, but they have appealed both cases to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

J. Carroll Holzer, the attorney handling that litigation, said even if they lose again, he expects to file new litigation.

“It’s not just about a rooftop bar and restaurant,” Holzer said. “It’s about preserving what the community felt was historic.”

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Ransom declined to say how much he’s spent on litigation, other than to say, “It’s gonna be a lot of money.”

A commissioner at the liquor board said any discussion of the rooftop bar at Thursday’s meeting was irrelevant because it was not part of the current plans for Prima Dopo. That didn’t stop one resident, Linda Giovanni, from issuing a warning.

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“I will not bring up third-story deck. But if that happens, there will be a fight by the neighbors on that,” Giovanni said.

Melissa Doering said neighbors were shocked when the rooftop bar was initially proposed.

“Those of us who have lived here for a long time don’t want any more chaos than we already have,” Doering said.

She lives above and owns the Penny Black bar, which is at the corner of Thames and Ann streets. Doering said a rooftop bar could permanently alter the character of the neighborhood.

“Fells Point is a really special neighborhood. It didn’t need to be fixed and it’s getting broken. They’re taking all the things that are really good about it and just making it all go away,” Doering said. “Once you give up something like that, it’s gone. Once you give up an historic property and let them tear it up, you’re never going to get it back.”


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