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Neighbors protest license renewal for bars sponsoring Federal Hill Irish Stroll

Critics ask Liquor Board to end event they say features too many drunk, urinating and misbehaving revelers

Above: From the online ad for the 2015 Federal Hill Irish Stroll.

Some residents fed up with thousands of hard-partying and heavy-drinking patrons attending the annual Federal Hill Irish Stroll have protested the renewal of the liquor licenses of the 17 establishments that sponsor it.

“When you see the young women sitting in doorways unable to move, the vomiting, the ambulances taking them away, you reach a point of frustration,” said Betsy Homer, of Warren Avenue, one of 10 residents who formally protested the licenses and plan to attend an upcoming liquor board hearing to make their case.

“We’re asking the liquor board to say, ‘No more! Don’t do these events anymore,’” said Homer.

Asked if the protestants are seeking better controls for the event or to simply stop it from being held in Federal Hill, Homer said controls have not worked in the past.

“You can have all the police and controls you want. But someone is over serving these people. I don’t know how you distinguish between the bad bar owners and the good ones,” she said.

“We’re asking the liquor board to just cut it off. Let’s clean up the neighborhood and stop us being the epicenter of college-age binge drinking,” Homer said. “This is more than a nuisance for us, it’s unsafe for the participants.”

Showdown on April 23

The protest, joined by 20 petition signers, was filed late last week, said liquor board executive secretary Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth. The establishments and their attorneys were informed over the weekend.

They are Mother’s Grille, No Way Jose, Ryleigh’s, MaGerks, C&R Pub, Rowhouse, Banditos, Nobles, Mad River, Illusions, Stalking Horse, Blue Agave, Ropewalk, Abbey Burger Bistro, Pub Dog, Fat Larry’s Cheesesteaks and Bookmakers.

Bailey-Hedgepeth noted that the residents also protested an additional establishment that was not a sponsor of the Stroll, Joey B’s, at 1015 South Charles Street.

Homer said Joey B’s was added because the people behind the controversial German-style beer garden, Crossbar, are seeking to transfer the defunct bar’s license to the new establishment planned at 12-18 Cross Street.

(The Joey B’s license is the latest strategy for the Crossbar, which was denied a different license transfer request a year a go when the liquor board said they were trying to use an expired “zombie” license.)

“If they use the Joey B’s license and are able to open up, we wanted them to be included in whatever decision comes out of this,” Homer said.

The protest is scheduled to be heard in City Hall in Room 215 on April 23 at 1.p.m.

Petty NIMBYs?

Bar owners weren’t responding to phone calls today (MaGerk’s, Mad River and Blue Agave declined comment), and neither was Brian McComas, president of the Federal Hill Hospitality Association who operates Ryleigh’s bar on Cross Street and is behind the planned Crossbar beer garden.

For many online post-ers, the news left a bad taste.

“Have the 21 ‘neighbors’ even thought of the implications of shutting down 17 Federal Hill bars at once?” one wrote on Facebook. “The message it sends to other businesses should they cross Federal Hill’s NIMBYs?”

“So that leaves about 32,963 Federal Hill neighbors that did *not* ask this,” another wrote. “An epic level of stupidity and pettiness,” said yet another.

But parents and others who say the Federal Hill bar scene has gotten out of control applauded the move.

“I’ve been around Federal Hill for a long time but in the last two years this has gotten totally out of control,” said Susan Ettinger. “I’m no Carrie Nation. This event is all about getting blasted.”

She spoke of residents afraid of zooming cars driven by drunk participants searching for parking spaces, residents getting ticketed because they can’t find a space, residents pleading with police to ticket people urinating on houses and lawns.

Ettinger, who is forming an alliance of parents, business-owners and senior citizens to oppose the bars, said people show up for the event, some arriving from local colleges on buses, already drunk at 11 a.m.

“I interviewed the businesspeople in Cross Street Market,” she said. “They said the people were vomiting inside the market. At one point they had to barricade the door to keep them out.”

Ettinger called the event “a health hazard,” saying it endangers residents and participants who she said are at risk for sexual assault, drunk-driving crashes and more.

Lewd Behavior Filmed

When they make their case, the protestants have some potent evidence from this year’s Irish Stroll, held on March 14.

Making the rounds online were some graphic videos and photos of the event, which sold tickets for 6,000 revelers. One photo showed a woman lying on her back in the doorway of Cross Street Market, her legs spread, a man gesturing toward and possibly touching her visible genitals, cigarette in hand.

A video shows people staggering in the street supported by others, a man trying to carry an incapacitated woman and dropping her, women being strapped onto ambulance stretchers and several women sitting stupefied in doorways.

4/7/15 UPDATE: The persons who made this video – and had given The Brew permission to use it – took it down briefly and then put it back up after blurring some faces.

It starts with a woman, as people stream past, vomiting into a garbage can, while another woman holds her hair out of the way.

Eleventh District Councilman Eric Costello has not returned phone calls and an email from The Brew about the Stroll, but an email he sent out to the community before last month’s event suggests the level of planning, police protection and concern that preceded it:

As promised, below is follow-up from our March 2 community meeting on the St. Patrick’s Event on Saturday March 14, 2015. Please feel free to share with your respective groups.

In preparation for this event, there were several meetings with the Southern District Police, the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the Fire Department, and the State’s Attorney. In addition, we held a community meeting with the president or their designee from each of the surrounding community associations as well as Federal Hill Main Street, Federal Hill Business, and Federal Hill Hospitality [FHHA] in an effort to share information and receive feedback. The intent of these meetings was to ensure as minimal impact as possible on surrounding residents and businesses.

The event will begin at 1200 Noon and last until approximately 900 p.m. The event will account for one (1) of four (4) street closures that FHHA is permitted to apply for, consistent with an agreement brokered by the former Director of Special Projects from the Mayor’s Office, dating back to 2012. This will be the second year that FHHA has combined the Irish Stroll with a permitted street closure, thus reducing the number of events from two to one (in years past, there were events on two consecutive weekends).

The Baltimore Police Department will have 24 Officers (including 1 Lieutenant and 3 Sergeants) with an additional 4-8 Auxiliary Police Officers on duty. The cost of providing these overtime Officers will be 100% covered by the FHHA and will not result in reduced coverage in any part of the City. This deployment will not only cover the area of Cross Street and S. Charles Street, but more importantly, the surrounding neighborhoods, in a 360 degree fashion. While specific deployment plans are not going to be shared publicly, it is important to note that there will be two (2) officers assigned to the interior of the Cross Street Market to ensure minimal disruption to vendors and customers.

The street closure will occur on the North side of the Unit block of E. Cross Street, and will run from approximately 1100am thru 1200 Midnight. FHHA has placed a voluntary cap on ticket sales at 6,000, down from 7,000 in 2012 and 6,900 in 2013. Tickets will be sold on the day of event at two locations: 1) in Mother’s parking lot; and 2) the alley on Marshall Street and E. Cross Street. FHHA member establishments will have their normal weekend evening security details on duty starting at 1200 Noon.

There will be 16 port-a-potties, located on the unit block of E. Cross Street and in the parking lot at 1100 S. Charles Street. To address long lines outside establishments, FHHA leadership and the Police have agreed upon a cooperative effort to keep lines for establishments within there “storefront” areas and in a fashion to allow for a clear pedestrian right of way.

The State’s Attorney has agreed to prosecute all incarcerable offenses with the goal of imposing the maximum level of community service as a sentence. The hope is that this alternative consequence for unwelcome behavior will send a more powerful statement than a simple fine. As we all know, time is just as money – if not more. In addition, I am working with the State’s Attorney to make sure that anyone convicted will complete their community service hours within the surrounding neighborhood.

The Fire Marshall will be on duty throughout the entire day and will be actively enforcing maximum capacities in establishments. Enforcement will begin at 1200 Noon and last until 200 am. In addition, the FHHA will be funding a Sunday morning cleanup through Baltimore Station.

Baltimore Police asked that folks be reminded of the following:

• If you need police assistance, dial 911 – this includes any quality of life issues
• If you want to see a police officer, dial 911, not 311
• Place valuables in a safe location
• Keep purses and wallets well secured
• Pay attention to your surroundings at all times
• Tell children to approach a police officer if they are separated from family
• Have a designated driver if you plan to drink
• Open container alcoholic beverages are not allowed in public spaces
• Public intoxication and disorderly conduct will not be tolerated
• Again, if you need police assistance, dial 911 – this includes any quality of life issues
• Again, if you want to see a police officer, dial 911, not 311

If you have questions or remaining concerns, please contact me via email.

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