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Mobtown Beat

Forbidden Zone

The battle over a Beans and Bread expansion takes a new turn

Douglass Place residents have declared a partial victory in their dispute with the Beans and Bread soup kitchen and homeless services center. On Jan. 27, a Circuit Court judge granted a stay of enforcement over Beans and Bread’s planned expansion, even after ruling against its unfriendly neighbors.

“The stay basically preserves the status quo for the duration of the appeal [process],” Deidre Hammer, president of the Douglass Place Neighborhood Association, wrote in an e-mail to supporters. “In practical terms, this means that the city and the St. Vincent de Paul Society cannot proceed with building the proposed expansion of Beans and Bread until the Court of Special Appeals hears the appeal.”

The battle began two years ago when neighbors found out that Beans and Bread, which provides meals and social services to the poor, was ready to begin constructing a 7,000-square-foot addition to its South Bond Street center a few blocks north of Fells Point. Claiming they had been left out of the planning process, the neighbors protested. Leaders with St. Vincent de Paul, which operates Beans and Bread, could not placate them (“Beans and Bread and Circuses,” Mobtown Beat, April 29, 2009).

So began a protracted zoning battle over the $4.4 million project, which is backed by city and state funding. In November 2009, the neighbors appealed the zoning decision and won a significant victory when Circuit Court Judge John Howard ruled that the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals (BMZA) would have to show its deliberations (“Documents and Eyewitnesses,” Mobtown Beat, June 4, 2010). The BMZA’s procedures have long rankled some “good government” activists.

The neighbors lost again at zoning, appealed to court again, and, on Jan. 27, lost again, when Judge John Miller ruled to allow the expansion to proceed. But the stay could delay the project for many more months while both sides await a decision from the Court of Special Appeals.

“So if the final decision is suspended, [Beans and Bread] can’t get zoning approval . . . to begin construction,” Fred Lauer, a lawyer working on behalf of the Douglass Place neighbors, says.

“This is another effort to seek a way of delaying the project,” says John Schiavone, president and CEO of St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore. He says St. Vincent’s attorney has asked the judge to reconsider the stay. “It’s premature to say this is a settled matter with regard to the stay,” he says.

Traditionally in cases like this, the developer can begin construction but risks having to tear down whatever is built if it later loses in court. Schiavone says he is not sure whether St. Vincent de Paul will start construction ahead of the next court decision, even if the stay is lifted.

Hammer says she believes the political power of her opponents has warped the legal procedure, and thinks her side has a better chance at appeal: “It takes it out of Baltimore City’s hands, takes the politics out of it, which are tons.”

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