Historic commission OKs restaurant decks Neighbors consider appeal of decision


Neighbors who complained about the expansion of three decks behind Cacao Lane Restaurant said they may appeal a vote by the Historic District Commission approving the revised structure.

"We haven't made a decision yet," said Sally Bright, who lives on Church Road behind the restaurant. "We're still trying to determine if it's important enough to appeal."

Residents have 30 days to file an appeal with the Circuit Court of Appeals, once the commission issues its formal decision and order next month.

During its July 1 meeting, the commission voted 5-1 to approve the three decks with certain conditions. Restaurant owner Allen Parsons must place potted trees and plants around the decks to conceal them from public view and reduce the sound of late-night diners.

In the past, neighbors have complained that the decks are too large for historic Ellicott City and that they attract noisy patrons who prevent them from sleeping at night.

"It's not part of the natural landscape, it's not part of the natural hillscape and it's not part of Ellicott City," said resident Phillip Ault, who lives behind the restaurant.

Vice chairwoman Cheryl McAfee, the only member to vote against the revised decks, also said they are incompatible with Ellicott City.

The decks are "inappropriate size-wise and architecturally for the district," Ms. McAfee said. "They're too modern, and the scale is way beyond the scope of what is appropriate for the area and elevation [of historic Ellicott City]."

But other commission members said the plans conformed with historic district standards. The residents' complaints fell outside the limited issues the commission is authorized to consider, Ms. McAfee said.

"Economy hardship is not a consideration; neither is noise or the number of people on his deck," she said.

Residents said they had hoped the historic district commission would force Mr. Parsons to reduce the size of his decks from about 1,600 square feet to the 600 square feet that was originally planned.

Although a June 18, 1991 building permit does not specify deck dimensions, the package contains sketches showing three decks totaling 596 square feet.

But Mr. Parsons built decks nearly three times larger than he had planned, saying he had to enlarge them after encountering unexpected stone in the ground.

He returned to the commission in May for approval of the revised decks, eleven months after completing them.

Because he made changes to the decks without the prior approval of the historic commission, residents said Mr. Parsons has established a precedent which enables people to build before seeking the commission's approval.

"You want something, just build it and bring in an attorney," Mr. Ault said.

But Rebecca Laws, the historic commission's attorney, said no precedent has been established.

"The same cases have been raised in recent months and the commission has come to two different decisions, and that does not suggest to me setting a precedent," Ms. Laws said. She referred to a Sylvan Lane man who was required to install expensive siding on a house after already buying some without the commission's approval.

In addition to the decks, the commission also approved exterior lights for the decks and plans to expand an existing roof.

Mr. Parsons said he hopes to put the conflict with his neighbors behind him.

"As far as I'm concerned, the issue's closed," he said. "I'm going to do my best to not give them a legitimate complaint."

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