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Tavern's future still uncertain

December 16, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - In the eyes of some who on Wednesday opposed the relocation of a city tavern, half of a city block might as well be a world apart.

Mary Ellen Pryor, owner of Shortstop Tavern on West Antietam Street, has proposed to move the tavern into a building less than a block away from where it currently stands, to a site behind The Maryland Theatre.

Pryor and her attorney asked the City Board of Zoning Appeals to overrule a city decision that, if upheld, would block her from moving her business. The BZA closed the hearing Wednesday before rendering its decision, which will come at a later date.

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Pryor's attorney, Kent Oliver, argued at the BZA's Wednesday night meeting that the new location would mean no more of an impact on the neighborhood than the old location because it is essentially in the same neighborhood.

Pryor and Oliver said there would be no major changes to the establishment aside from its location, and Pryor has cooperated with local law enforcement to keep the bar problem-free. Pryor has run the tavern for 23 years.

Others, including two City Council members and two members of the Washington County Board of Education, strongly disagreed with Pryor and Oliver.

Patricia Wolford, Maryland Theatre executive director, said that due to the number of children who frequently use the theater both night and day, the relocation of the tavern is "unacceptable."

"It may attract undesirables unknown to the owner ... and possibly put other people at risk," Wolford said.

Jacqueline Fischer, school board vice president, said the planned Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, which might be the state's first public charter school, are in direct contrast with plans for the tavern.

Fischer said the tavern, which would be next to the proposed school, could be a temptation for young teens.

"I just can't see how such a thing could be allowed," Fischer said.

It was City Zoning Administrator Stephen Bockmiller's original decision to deny an application for a special exception for the tavern that prompted the BZA hearing. He said the mayor and council also oppose the proposed move.

On Wednesday, Bockmiller said, "They possibly found the single worst place" in the city to place a tavern.

Once those opposed to the plans finished testifying, Oliver spoke a final time.

Oliver argued that basing the decision on plans for the arts school was speculative because the BZA likely would have to rule on a special exception for the school as well.

Oliver disputed the opposing arguments that Pryor's establishment would be any worse than any of the other nearby businesses with liquor licenses, and said the testimony tried to portray the customers and Pryor as second-class citizens.

"Mrs. Pryor must be gratified - after struggling downtown for 23 years - at the support she's received from the City of Hagerstown," Oliver said.

Pryor said she would maintain the same type of liquor license she has, which allows for sale of both beer and liquor. It also allows drink consumption both on and off premises.

Pryor said after that the license does not require her to serve food, but she provides hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and pizza.

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