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Beans and Bread Delayed Again

June 23, 2011

The logo of a Facebook group for opponents of Beans and Bread's expansion.

A long-planned expansion of a homeless services center in Upper Fells Point was delayed again on June 22 after a zoning appeal.

Neighbors of Beans and Bread, who have fought a planned 7,000-square-foot expansion for years, objected to revised plans that added nearly 500 square feet of additional space to the project after city agencies had approved them.

“The plans are bigger,” says Deirdre Hammer, president of the Douglass Place Neighborhood Association. “A developer cannot come back to zoning enforcement with plans that are significantly amended from those approved at a BMZA [Board of Municipal Zoning and Appeals] hearing. If they could do that, a developer could come in with one thing and then build bigger later without us even knowing about it.”

John Schiavone, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul, the Catholic charity that operates Beans and Bread, says the increased square footage was “miniscule” and “irrelevant” and the delay will be minor. “The zoning board decided that it wants to more closely review the changes to the plan that were required by CHAP—the Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation—to make sure the changes do not in any way conflict with the relief that the board has already granted to the project,” Schiavone says. “The ironic thing is most of the changes that were made to the plans were made at the behest of the community and CHAP.”

Construction has been halted, according to Victor Corbin, president of the Fells Prospect, a nearby neighborhood association. “They were doing demo work on the inside . . .  so I sent photos to [1st District City Councilmember James] Kraft and [City Council President] Jack Young’s office,” Corbin says. “What we were told today is that the permits have been revoked. So they cannot do anything. They have removed the dumpster, they removed the Bobcat [earth mover] they had over there. Now I’m moving to have the street reopened.”

At the June 22 zoning hearing, Joseph Woolman, a lawyer for St. Vincent de Paul, began the hearing by arguing that the negative appeal was moot, because it was filed against a building permit that had been superseded. But BMZA members said that Woolman and St. Vincent de Paul had not told opponents that they were applying for a new building permit, according to Fred Lauer, a lawyer for the neighborhood association.

“Basically they said they were going to make a little amendment to the plan, dealing with this 8-foot or 6-foot fence,” Lauer says. “Then, instead of that, they went and got a new permit . . . and said our hearing was moot because you didn’t protest that permit. The zoning board didn’t buy it.”

Schiavone says that is “a misunderstanding, mischaracterization of what happened there.” The only valid point that the neighbors had involved the fence, he says, “so we fixed that—we amended the plan to fix that [and] the city required us to get a new permit.”

The neighborhood association has claimed the Catholic charity has relied on deceptive practices from the beginning, by failing to notify the various neighborhood groups of their plans and then telling state lawmakers and the governor that they had the support of the neighbors.

The $4.4 million project, which proponents say will provide a much-needed expansion of services for a vulnerable and underserved population, is backed by state money.

The neighbors have appealed the previous zoning approval to the Court of Special Appeals after losing at lower levels. The case is pending.

“We’re going to fight them every step of the way,” Corbin says. “There is no trust within the community.”

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