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City zoning board denies proposal for Federal Hill beer garden

The city's zoning board on Tuesday denied an appeal by a Federal Hill group to create an open-air beer garden across from the Cross Street Market.

Board members voted 3-2 to grant conditional approval to the courtyard beer garden in the first block of Cross Street, but the appeal needed a four-vote majority to pass.

Board Chairman Geoffrey Washington, who voted for the appeal, proposed several conditions. The bar would have to operate as a restaurant, selling more food than beer. No bar or music would be allowed outside. It would be required to provide valet parking, to ensure that customers didn't fill up spots used by neighbors. And it would have to close by 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11:30 p.m. on weekends.

But those measures, and the argument by attorney Joseph Woolman that the garden would fall well within the city's zoning law, weren't enough to convince board members Courtney McKeldin and Jai Bonner, who voted to reject the appeal.

If the bar were approved, Bonner said, it would be difficult to keep the establishment from continuing to operate as a tavern, or overfilling the beer garden with the 300 people it was built to contain.

McKeldin agreed. "I was pretty sure the owner couldn't meet those conditions," she said.

The group that wants to build the beer garden on the former site of Turner's bar also operates Ryleigh's Oyster restaurant and bar a few doors away. It had come to an agreement with the South Baltimore Neighborhood Association to limit the hours, halve the capacity, provide valet parking and plant trees to help buffer the sound.

But members of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association, some of whom live on Poultney Street just feet away, testified for hours Tuesday on potential problems with noise, parking and fire safety.

"We already have a problem with bars on Cross Street," said Diana Sugg, who co-chairs the association's liquor and live entertainment advisory committee. "There's not going to be a lot of enforcement. If they build it to 300, they'll fill it to 300."

Sugg, a former reporter for The Baltimore Sun, argued that the neighborhood is at a "tipping" point with its bars. She said she was pleased with the ruling.

"This news means that there's a lot of families that were thinking of moving out of Federal Hill and out of the city who might think twice and hopefully stay," she said. "It's a sign to people in neighborhoods who are struggling with bars to stand up and address those problems. The city will listen to your concerns."

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