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Tailgaters party without penalty

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Preseason threats by city officials that they would crack down on large-scale football tailgate parties in neighborhoods outside PSINet Stadium didn't dampen enthusiastic parties before and after the Ravens' home-opening win yesterday.

The tailgating went on in the face of pending appeals and permit applications. It went on in places that had already been fined during preseason games. In fact, by game time yesterday, overseers of some southern Baltimore gathering spots said the most they had seen of city zoning inspectors were their cars pulling up and pausing - before riding away.

"This is the test. We'll see what goes on today," said Bo Hadaway, who, with his brother Kurt, oversaw a tailgate party on the lot behind Kurt's auto shop on West Street. It would take just one fine for the brothers to shut the party down, he said. "If they bother us, that's it."

Just a few long blocks from the stadium on the southern edge of downtown, beer flowed from packed coolers. Men proudly wore purple. The smell of hot dogs and hamburgers wafted from tiny grills.

Debbie Boyd of White Marsh chowed down with friends, co-workers and family who paid $20 a car for a spot to cook in a large dirt and grass lot on West Ostend Street. Festivities on that lot, which has hosted one of the larger gatherings since the stadium opened three seasons ago, prompted some of the complaints that led to the earlier enforcement. The lot was once leased by a sports talk-show host, "Nasty" Nestor Aparicio.

"If they shut it down here, people would find another spot," said Boyd, a Maryland Shock Trauma Center nurse.

In all, Sunday morning's festivities were something of an anticlimax to a tailgating crackdown that began after community leaders complained and inspectors from the city Department of Housing and Community Development handed out $500 fines during preseason games last month. City officials have said they turned up violations of the zoning code for off-street parking and a lack of permits for parking, which kept the city from collecting taxes.

Tailgating is permitted in two stadium lots, which have 1,300 spaces and are controlled by the Maryland Stadium Authority.

Two of the bigger tailgate fests outside stadium lots went on as usual, although Aparicio is no longer involved in the West Ostend Street fete. Sam Himmelrich Jr., who also oversees three other lots, took over the lease this year and said he is still seeking a permit for tailgating.

Cynthia M. Griffin, president of the South Baltimore Improvement Committee, said yesterday that she was bothered that the West Ostend Street party was still going on without permits. Her group, one of the ones to lodge complaints, isn't trying to squelch fans' fun, she said, just to make sure everything is done right.

A party outside Mother's Federal Hill Grille drew a few hundred fans to drink Amstel Light and Coors beer and to eat $5 hamburgers before the game.

Mother's owner Dave Rather said he had been given the OK to hold his parties outside while he awaits the outcome later this year of his appeal of an earlier $500 fine. By the time his appeal is heard in late November, the season will be more than half over.

"I'm going to fight for my rights, but I'm going to do everything legal," he said.

Mother's attracted a handful of folks, too, who had run the 5K and 10K Avon-sponsored women's races earlier in the day. The event, which later pampered women with free manicures, blood pressure and body fat checks through a post-race "traveling village," drew more than 1,200 runners.

Heather Doucha of Columbia, who ran the 10K, drove over to Mother's with some friends.

"We'll do a little tailgating after breakfast, maybe," she said.

Closer to the stadium, Hadaway opened his lot, behind John's Auto Service, and held his breath. He went in search of permits, he said, but found himself passed from department to department and finally gave up. He said he decided to limit his tailgaters mostly to customers of the business and to allow folks on his lot for free, just in case he was shut down.

The most he saw, though, was a zoning official riding by in a city vehicle, stopping briefly, and driving away. City officials could not be reached yesterday to comment.

By game's end, his face was sunburned, and he hadn't been fined - yet.

Jim Kinard, a Baltimore County firefighter who set up across the street from the unpaved West Ostend lot, said fans just want to park their cars and root for their team in a city that loves its pro sports. If the city cracks down on tailgating, Kinard said, it would be "unfortunate."

"We're football fans. We come down here to sit outside and drink a few beers," he said. "Other than that, we all have jobs we have to go to tomorrow."

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