An Eastport restaurant is hoping to be the first business granted permission to build a rooftop dining deck since the Annapolis City Council passed a law allowing their construction.
The Rockfish Restaurant, at 400 Sixth St., is asking the Board of Appeals to grant them a special exception for a deck that would seat up to 54 people.
"It was always our hope or aspiration to have roof top dining. Our customers have repeatedly asked ‘are we going to be able to eat outside?’” Rockfish's managing partner Gregory Casten said.
Rooftop dining was always part of Rockfish's business plan, said Daniel Ball, a Columbia-based architect who designed Rockfish in 2004. He included an outdoor dining area when he submitted his original designs to the city.
Those plans were scrapped when Annapolis informed Rockfish's owners that their zoning district required all business to be done indoors.
Casten said that restriction on the convenience shopping and community shopping districts hampered his business because across the Eastport Bridge, in another zoning district, restaurants like Metropolitan and Rams Head Tavern could offer a range of outdoor dining options.
"There is a demand for outside dining," Rockfish attorney Alan Hyatt said. "People like it, people expect it today."
Last May the city agreed, and amended the prohibition.
Rockfish's proposed deck will not have outdoor music or amplified sound, and it will include sound mitigating wall panels on three sides to comply with the rooftop dining law's restrictions. The deck will also close at midngiht—two hours before Rockfish's night normally ends.
Those concessions didn't stop Carrie Kennedy, who lives on Severn Avenue near Rockfish, from opposing the expansion.
"Myself and my husband, Charles Kinnamon, oppose the Rockfish expansion onto the roof on the basis that they are bad neighbors," Kennedy said.
She cited increased trash, noise and traffic as her three major concerns.
Rockfish's proposal states that it would curtain off a section of the downstairs dining area when the deck was in use so that the restaurant's capacity would remain at 216 seats.
Kennedy said few people eat at Rockfish now, but the deck might lure customers in and effectively increase traffic.
"The current parking lot is in a sad state of disrepair. So, nobody parks in that parking lot," Kennedy said. "Rather they park on the street in front of our house."
She asked the board to require Rockfish to fix its parking lot as a condition of approval.
Casten said the company is working with Spa Creek Conservancy to secure funds for a three-year, $400,000 project to create an eco-friendly parking lot with drainage.
Kennedy also lamented about the beer bottles and cigarette butts she frequently finds on her lawn and in her planters—which she believes are from Rockfish patrons.
"Presumably there will be even more people outside smoking with the potential to bring even more beer bottles and beer cans with them," Kennedy said.
Taking liquor outside of a restaurant is not allowed under Annapolis law, and Hyatt noted that Rockfish could lose its liquor license for such a violation. He and Casten assured the board that staff monitor customers to ensure they are not taking drinks with them when they leave to smoke.
"To my knowledge it’s not happening," Casten said. "I think it is maybe people hanging out after hours."
Casten said the parking lot used to be known as a place to hang out and drink prior to Rockfish purchasing the property.
Alderman Ross Arnett (D-8th Ward) supports Rockfish's expansion, and tried to address some of Kennedy's concerns after the meeting.
"I told the couple what they are concerned about is enforcement," Arnett said.
He offered them his contact information should they continue to have problems with Rockfish and said he sympathizes with their beer can plight.
"A lot of people plant beer cans around Eastport, including in my own yard," Arnett said. "But I think they are coming from people getting off the boats."
If approved, Casten said he could have the rooftop deck open with in 30 days of securing a building permit.