For Odell's, closing hour approaches Club to appeal zoning board denial


The Baltimore zoning board yesterday disapproved a request by owners of Odell's to remain open as a dance hall on a 3-1 vote -- in effect shutting down the North Avenue nightspot, which has been blamed for a rash of shootings and violence outside the club.

State Del. Elijah E. Cummings, D-City, a lawyer representing the club owner, immediately vowed to appeal the decision to Circuit Court, saying that his client "has been made a scapegoat for the ills of society" and was not to blame for the violence, trash, traffic and noise outside the establishment.

In the meantime, representatives of the club owner, 19-21 Inc., are scheduled to appear today before Baltimore Circuit Judge Ellen L. Hollander, who must decide what to do about the nightspot now that the zoning board has denied its application to operate as a dance hall.

Since last year, Odell's has been operating without a zoning permit but under court-approved agreements with city officials that imposed conditions on the club's operation, pending resolution of the zoning case.

"Unless the Circuit Court stays the board's decision and allows them to continue to operate, I would say they have to close," said David C. Tanner, the city's zoning administrator, who has sought since last year to shut the club for not complying with zoning regulations governing private clubs.

While the city eventually revoked Odell's permit to operate as a private club and twice has gone to court to close the establishment for non-compliance, the nightclub has managed to stay open temporarily under the provisions of the court-approved agreements with the city.

"We are certainly disappointed," said Mr. Cummings, who is also delegate to the Maryland General Assembly. "You have a zoning board that has put a man out of business for something he didn't do."

But Mr. Cummings raised larger concerns about the escalating violence among the city's youth, who will be left with one fewer place at which to gather and associate with one another. "You have young people with nothing to do," he said.

"The problem is not Odell's, the problem goes to all of us. . . . Our society must address the problems of young people."

The opposition was sympathetic to the owner of Odell's -- 19-21 Inc.'s president, Milton Tillman -- but neighbors continued to raise concerns about the problems they said are generated by patrons of the club at 21 E. North Ave.

"As a businessman, I hate to see any business put out of business . . . but the people in the neighborhood need their sleep," said resident Charles R. "Dick" Lloyd, co-chairman of the Charles-North Community Association who resides and operates a business in the area.

Mr. Lloyd, who was among the residents opposing the dance hall proposal, said he did not understand why the patrons of Odell's could not keep down the noise and go home once the night is over.

While members of the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals seemed to agree with Mr. Cummings that the city's youth are without an adequate number of places at which to gather, the majority turned thumbs down on the Odell's proposal.

"Our policemen are not in the baby-sitting business," said board member Barbara A. Green, before voting against the proposal.

Gia A. Blattermann, another board member, said she was saddened by the young people's plight, but she asserted that the club "is a burden to the city and a burden to the community."

Ms. Blattermann said she hoped a compromise could be worked out among the club owner, the neighbors and the city.

The sole vote in favor of the dance hall proposal came from Herbert Brown, who said he believed "there is room for coexistence at that location."

But, Mr. Brown said, that compromise would "require some adjustment on the part of the owner and require some continued patience on the part of the community."

He said he would like to see the club remain open as a dance hall but alter its hours of operation.

He also expressed concern about the city's youth, saying, "The incidents on that corner are an extension of what's happening with our children all across the city."

The vote yesterday came a week after a four-hour hearing often packed by nearly 150 people on whether to allow Odell's to operate as a dance club.

Parts of that hearing had been quite emotional, and so was the response to yesterday's vote.

"I think it stinks," said Marvin W. Fulton, 18, an Odell's patron from the 3700 block of Yosemite Ave., who attended the vote yesterday wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with "Odell's belongs in this community."

"Odell's is a place where people can come and enjoy being around each other," Mr. Fulton said. "In other communities, there are clubs for white people that they don't close down."

While Mr. Fulton initially said he believed the decision was "racist," he later modified his opinion. "It's not really racism, it's just that white people, they don't understand."

He said he fears that violence in the city could increase now.

Ann A. Kittrell, who resides in the 400 block of Pittman Place and whose now-grown children once frequented Odell's, echoed Mr. Fulton's concern.

"They're building stadiums, and the children don't have nowhere to go," Ms. Kittrell said. "That's why they're out there killing each other -- and it's going to get worse.

"Odell's kept a lot of boys and girls off the street, and I'm afraid they're going to be sorry" about the decision, she said.

"They think the police is baby-sitting now; they're going to be baby-sitting all these murders that are going to be happening."

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