Most of the residents of North Baltimore’s Bellona-Gittings neighborhood are big fans of the local beer and wine outpost, the Pinehurst Wine Shoppe. But many who live nearby feverishly oppose plans to add a 107-seat family restaurant to the building.
More than 100 residents packed into a Monday night meeting of the Bellona-Gittings Community Association to air concerns and take an informal vote on the proposed build-out of the Pinehurst Wine Shoppe. The shop’s owner, Bob Schindler, hopes to build a 1,400-square-foot addition to his store at the corner of Gittings and Bellona avenues and has shared the blueprints with the community association.
“I want this to be the Petit Louis of Pinehurst,” he told Baltimore Fishbowl earlier this month, referring to the popular French restaurant on Roland Avenue. “I think the neighborhood is with me. I’m planning to make it great.”
The results of the straw vote taken at the meeting, however, indicate the opposite. Community members cast their votes – for or against – on Monday after a 20-minute presentation and question-and-answer session with Al Barry, a consultant working with Schindler. Barry presented the architectural plans for the building and answered queries from neighbors.
While no exact tally from the vote was available, according to a letter from the community association board members, it amounted to a “landslide rejection of Pinehurst’s plan.”
“Not long into our meeting, it became clear from your comments that there were serious concerns about the proposal’s impact on our neighborhood, in the immediate and distant future,” the letter reads.
Patrick Rossello, president of the association, has since contacted Schindler’s team, as well as Councilman Bill Henry, “to let them know the Bellona-Gittings Community stands in united opposition to this proposal,” according to the letter.
(Rossello didn’t respond to an email requesting comment for this story.)
Noah Cowan, a neighbor who opposes the store’s restaurant ambitions, said “the overwhelming majority [at the meeting] felt strongly that this plan they’ve proposed is not right for this small community.”
Opposition has been building since the plan surfaced. Bellona-Gittings residents have created a website devoted entirely to opposing the Pinehurst Wine Shoppe’s expansion plan.
A conflict over zoning is at play here. Before Transform Baltimore, the city’s new zoning code, took effect this summer, Pinehurst Wine Shoppe and the adjacent Pinehurst Pharmacy were designated as “non-conforming” retail space in an otherwise solely residential area. When the new law took effect, the building was reclassified as C-1 VC.
A legend for the city’s new zoning map says C-1 VC applies to “areas of pedestrian-oriented corridors of commercial uses that serve the immediate neighborhood in a village center environment.” In effect, it gives Schindler freedom to pursue new commercial plans.
Cowan says the community entered into a memorandum of understanding with Schindler about the new zoning designation before it took effect. They agreed to let the store rezone with a retail classification with a goal to keep it up and running, rather than watch it be “phased out” with other businesses previously considered “non-conforming,” Cowan said.
But he says the agreement was drawn up for the purpose of letting Schindler continue running a beer and wine operation – not a family-style restaurant. “That’s the way we would like it to stay,” he said. “We want that institution to survive and be profitable in our neighborhood as it is.”
Beyond the neighborhood fit, though, residents are also worried about cramped parking, potentially disrupted traffic flow from the nearby intersection and the potential for rats that comes with preparing and disposing of food.
Cowan’s other concerns: The building’s historic integrity would be harmed; surrounding properties’ values could decrease; Schindler’s restaurant could fail, given his lack of restaurant experience, taking the well-liked Pinehurst Wine Shoppe with it.
Barry validated some of the anxieties on a phone call Tuesday. “People are skeptical,” he said. “There are some specific details that we need to address.”
For the parking issue, he said, “we need to spend some time thinking about that,” though he argued the public spaces along Bellona and Gittings avenues are “95 percent vacant…at any time, day or night.”
On the issue of rodents: “Any neighborhood gets rats from time to time, and they have to be exterminated.”
Regarding the details of the restaurant plan – “it’s hard to understand what the business plan is,” Cowan said – Barry said they should have made them clearer.
“I got the sense last night that people really want to know what this is and who’s behind it,” he said. “We have not been more specific than that, and I think the neighborhood is owed a full description and the principals behind it.”
He estimated that roughly two-thirds of the attendees at Monday’s meeting hadn’t seen the architectural mockups or other details that had been provided to the community association, likely because they weren’t dues-paying members of the group. That lack of information could have affected the vote, he said.
The community association’s letter says its leadership plans to meet with Councilman Henry “to reiterate our position,” and “then, we will take all necessary actions to ensure that the will of the community prevails.” The group is still taking additional comments from neighbors.
Barry, meanwhile, says Schindler and his team will attempt to rework the restaurant plan to address concerns. They could eliminate the patio from the blueprint, he said, and potentially enter into a “restrictive covenant with the community which would govern the building,” setting rules for hours of operation, parking, and even what type of restaurant is allowed to operate there.
“It’s incumbent upon us to think about this and provide much more detailed information,” he said, adding “people should keep an open mind about if they can negotiate the right conditions.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Cowan created the website opposing the Pinehurst Wine Shoppe’s expansion plan. We regret the error.
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