Fell’s Point is known for vetting potential liquor licenses and license transfers, and this time is no different, except a different neighborhood association, Douglass Place, is leading the opposition.
Raj Bommakanti, whose tavern at 1709 Fleet St. burned down a year and a half ago, wants to transfer his tavern license to a new location at 1615 Eastern Ave., and the Douglass Place Neighborhood Association has created a petition to oppose the transfer.
Dierdre Hammer, president of Douglass Place, said her group is opposing the transfer of the seven-day tavern license because the tavern will be approximately one block away from a homeless facility and soup kitchen, as well as near a halfway house and substance abuse facilities.
“This neighborhood already battles a high incidence of open-container drinking, inebriation, disorderly behavior, loitering and more,” she said. “A package store will further contribute to this type of activity.”
Last year, the public drinking and vagrant problem was such an eyesore along Broadway that City Councilman James Kraft removed eight park benches from the public areas along the median.
A few weeks ago, when Bommakanti presented his business plans and drawings for a 3,500-square-foot upscale tavern selling microbrews, wine, and spirits, to the Fell’s Point Task Force, a group of neighborhood association leaders, he was met with universal opposition.
One reason was because he wanted to open the tavern at 7 a.m.
State Delegate Peter Hammen (D-46), who chairs the Task Force, told Bommakanti he needs to revisit the idea of the memorandum of understanding with the neighborhood associations.
In early April, Bommakanti presented his plans to the Fell’s Point Residents Association, which voted unanimously against the transfer.
“A lot of thought was given to the opinions expressed by the immediate neighbors in the 1600 block of Eastern,” David Martz, president of FPRA said, regarding the vote.
Michael Wright, who recently bought a building at 1605-07 Eastern Ave. and plans to open a furniture store there next month, attended that meeting and was so upset at the prospect of a large tavern opening nearby that he created a website to draw attention to Douglass Place’s petition, and designed signs of opposition for neighbors to hang in their windows.
“I thought that the neighborhood was moving in the right direction,” Wright said. “I’m pro-small business but not this kind.”
Wright added that he’s not against liquor stores–he said he is actually looking forward to two new restaurants with liquor licenses that will be opening in the Broadway area within the next few months.
“But let’s not pretend that Raj is going to be selling anything more than alcohol, cigarettes, and lottery. How can you have a high-end tavern without food?” he asked.
Bommakanti’s business plan does not indicate whether he will be selling lottery tickets or that he plans to serve food in the tavern. A query to his attorney Abe Hurdle regarding lottery sales was acknowledged but went unanswered.
However, Bommakanti’s preliminary business plan does mention the possibility of turning the second floor into a multi-ethnic, fast-casual eatery at some point. At the Task Force meeting, Bommakanti said the eatery would not serve alcohol.
Wright said he’s not against Raj rebuilding his business.
“If he didn’t have a negative history in the neighborhood, I might be more amenable,” he said. “He had a liquor store in the neighborhood before, and people weren’t excited about that. Why would this one be any different? He’s the same man. What’s changed?”
Hammer said the neighborhood is also sympathetic to his need to relocate—but they don’t want his business there. She’d rather see it in a commercially-zoned area.
“In fact, some of the residents have already suggested locations to him,”she said.
Douglass Place is primarily a residential neighborhood, Hammer added.
“There are residents right next door to 1615 Eastern Ave., across the street, and all along S. Bethel, S. Bond, S. Dallas and Bank streets,” she said. “There are local businesses already in existence, new businesses, such as a furniture store, moving in, proposed residential units on the horizon, and recently completed rehabs.This liquor license transfer would stop this momentum and destabilize the community once again.”
To date, more than 100 people have signed Douglass Place’s petition.
One signer is Daniel Henson, a developer and former Baltimore City Housing Authority director.
“I just completed a 47-unit apartment building at Bank and Broadway. We need another alcohol purveyor like we need a hole in the head,” Henson wrote. “Give us a chance to be a neighborhood.”
Arthur Perschetz, a Fell’s Point resident and former president of the Fell’s Point Residents Association, also signed.
“[The] neighborhood doesn’t need another hell-hole posing as a tavern, as in the last disaster that was run by one of the current applicants. [F]ool me once … ,” Perschetz wrote in the “reason for signing” section of the petition.
According to Wright, almost all of the nearby Eastern Ave. neighbors are trying to stop this license transfer.
“There is a large ground swell from residents to keep Eastern Ave. moving in the right direction, but we are still worried the Liquor Board will ignore our voices,” he said.
“If the board is not selective about who it supports, we have to be selective about the businesses we support.”
Wright encourages residents not to buy alcohol from stores whose practices or patrons have a negative impact on the community.
“If the Liquor Board won’t do what is best, maybe we need to,” he said.
by Danielle Sweeney