A sign that has divided Baltimore's Little Italy community will not be calling Inner Harbor tourists to the famous neighborhood and its restaurants.
The city Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals voted unanimously yesterday against granting permission for the 15-by-20 foot sign after two hours of debate between Little Italy ,, residents and business groups.
City building officials testified that the sign -- which restaurateurs called a mural -- was a lighted advertisement under city definition because the restaurateurs planned to include the logos of 14 Little Italy restaurants. Restaurant owners said they would appeal the decision in court.
In striking down the sign, zoning board officials noted that 50 percent of the surrounding area near the Ciao Bella Restaurant on South High Street, where the sign was to hang, is occupied by homes.
Leaders of the Little Italy Owners and Residents Association objected to the sign, saying that granting it would open the door to Little Italy's being plastered with billboards. A complaint from LIORA member Gia Blatterman, a former zoning appeals board member, resulted in city officials' halting completion of the sign in August.
Half of the $10,000 sign -- a white mounting board -- went up this summer. The mounting board will have to come down.
Steve Kennedy, a Mount Washington resident who owns three properties in the 400 block of S. High St., testified that the "Welcome to Little Italy" sign, with a bowl of linguine and bottle of wine, could someday advertise other products.
"If they sell it to a Burger King or an exterminator and they put up a giant rat, then we've lost control," Kennedy said.
Restaurant leaders, however, said their sole intent was to identify Little Italy for tourists unsure of where the Inner Harbor ends and their neighborhood begins. The Little Italy Restaurant Association said they wanted the sign to woo tourists strolling along the Inner Harbor.
"It's just welcoming people to Little Italy and telling them to enjoy themselves," said Nazzareno F. Velleggia, owner of Vellegia's Restaurant on East Pratt Street. "This is a warm, welcoming statement to people."
Restaurant owners left before the decision, but Velleggia said from his restaurant last night that the association will continue its push for the sign.
"We didn't lose, Baltimore City lost," Velleggia said. "They sent a bad message to the business community."
Blatterman hugged one of the opponents before their departure. Blatterman, sitting in the back of the hearing room, blessed herself and blew the board a kiss, lamenting the scars left after the sign battle.
"It's sad," she said. "We're a community."
Pub Date: 12/09/98