More than 150 people packed into a community meeting at the Church of the Redeemer in North Baltimore last month to hear the proposed expansion plans for Pinehurst Wine Shoppe—a decades-old liquor store that sits on the corner of Bellona and Gittings avenues.
The meeting was attended by neighborhood locals and concerned citizens alike, but after the presentation concluded, only community residents were permitted to stay. In the discussion that followed, the stragglers aired their frustrations.
“The majority of people were vehemently against the plan,” says Bellona-Gittings Neighborhood Association president Patrick Rossello. “At one point, I had to stop the meeting and ask for somebody who was in favor of it to say something. Three people stepped forward, but even they had some reservations.”
The plans proposed by longtime Pinehurst owner Bob Schindler call for a 1,400-square-foot expansion of the shop that would house a 107-seat family restaurant with a mezzanine level and outdoor patio. Though the concept has yet to be fully fleshed out, Schindler says that he wants the cafe to mirror the quality of Johnny’s or Petit Louis in Roland Park.
“It’s not going to be shabbily done,” he says, mentioning that he wants the menu to include steak, sandwiches, and crab cakes. “We’re willing to put the money in to make it very nice and upscale.”
The $500,000 buildout would include two additions—one in the back of the building to house a kitchen and bathrooms, and one side addition for the restaurant and 11-seat bar. The structure of the existing building, as well as its adjoining neighbor Charlesmead Pharmacy, would not be affected by the construction.
Schindler’s plans were sparked in part by Transform Baltimore, the city’s first rewritten zoning codes in nearly 40 years that went into effect this past summer. The codes aim to promote a more walkable city that favors mixed-use spaces, rather than separating properties into strictly residential, industrial, or commercial categories.
Under the new codes, Pinehurst, which was previously a residential building with non-conforming use, has now been granted commercial zoning. Schindler says that, in addition to taking advantage of the new status, he wanted to expand his business in a way that would be beneficial for the community at large.
“I was thinking about what uses the neighborhood really needed,” he says. “And the first thing that came to mind was a restaurant. I’ve been here for 32 years and we’re always looking for a place to eat. Every place you go is either far, or you have to fight parking to get there.”
But parking happens to be one of the main concerns for residents who oppose the restaurant. Rossello says that neighbors are worried about the lack of space (the lot behind Pinehurst and Charlesmead only has 14 spots), and fear that street parking during the dinner rush will hold up traffic near the already-bustling Charles-Gittings intersection.
“Public safety is also a problem,” Rossello adds. “There is no crosswalk there, and now you would have a lot of foot traffic going back and forth.”
Schindler argues that, because the restaurant would be walkable for residents in the surrounding communities, many wouldn’t need parking.
“I don’t know if everybody realizes that right around my store from Stevenson Lane to Lake Avenue, and Charles Street to York Road, are 4,000 homes,” he says. “My store sits dead in the middle. And most of the people could walk here.”
The issue of noise and rodents was also one that was raised among neighborhood residents, who are worried about the excess garbage coming from a full-service restaurant. The proposed outdoor patio seating, along with the hours—the restaurant plans to stay open until 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends—have sparked debate.
“I can assure everyone, since I’m going to be here, that there aren’t going to be any smells, rats, or noise,” Schindler says. “I don’t want that either, and I’m not going to allow it to happen.”
Looking ahead, Schindler and his team—which includes planning consultant Al Barry and local architect Vincent Greene—plan to revise their proposal based on the neighborhood feedback and present the changes after the New Year.
With such significant backlash from the community, (residents have even launched a website in opposition of the plans), Rossello says he’s unsure whether a compromise can be reached.
“The community told us that they just don’t want it,” he says. “As of right now, Pinehurst does not have support from the Bellona-Gittings addresses.”
While it seems that the two parties are at an impasse, Schindler says he is going to do whatever it takes to get the neighborhood on board. He is even willing to enter into a restrictive covenant with the association—which would give the board a degree of control over operational decisions, and extend to any new owners of the property in the future.
“These are our friends and neighbors of 30 years—I want the same things they do,” Schindler says. “I want to address their concerns and help assure them in any way I can. We’re just looking to put in a nice little family cafe. No more, no less.”