Zoning problems may spell the last tango for a New Carrollton dancing instructor, but many residents are hopping to her side.Almost 100 persons, mostly current and former students of instructor Rita Cocchiaro, attended a City Council meeting last week to protest a county zoning board attempt to close her dance studio.
Cocchiaro has operated the studio in her house at 6123 Lanmont Dr. for more than 20 years, but Prince George's zoning law prohibits dance studios in private homes.
After a neighbor complained to county zoning authorities, Cocchiaro and Betty Quigley, a neighbor who also operated a dance studio, were issued citations in November and told to shut down within 30 days. Cocchiaro appealed the decision, while Quigley closed her shop.
During the appeal, Cocchiaro is continuing to operate her studio. She has been given a grace period and has applied for an extension as allowed by law, City Administrator John Brunner said.
In April, Quigley complained to the zoning board that Cocchiaro's appeal process was taking too long and that Cocchiaro still was teaching out of her home.
"I taught dancing from my home and in other places for more than 21 years and had to close my studio at home, while someone only five doors away is still working," Quigley said. "If the community has to abide by certain rules, it is only fair that we all live and abide by the same rules."
The City Council has no authority over the zoning matter, but it voted at its meeting to support extending Cocchiaro's grace period if the county awards it.
Cocchiaro and her husband Eric said they are "very disturbed" about the attempt to close the studio. "That's in polite English," she said.
Eric Cocchiaro said the studio is open only three days a week, nine months a year, and the students are mostly children.
"We were the first house in this neighborhood, and my wife has worked here for so many years," he said. "Now they are trying to put her out of business."
County zoning authorities are expected to rule soon on the case.
In other business, the council approved a $24,000 bid by Hubscher Construction Co. of Brentwood for a salt bin. The city had budgeted $15,000 for the bin, used to store salt for use on icy highways during the winter, but the lowest bid was Hubscher's $24,000, Brunner said. The extra money will come from admission and amusement tax revenues, he said. The city originally expected to receive $163,000 from the tax but now anticipates getting $174,000, he said. The tax is levied on coin-operated games, movies and live entertainment.
The council also reappointed Saul Levine and Donald A. Ross to two-year terms as members of the city's elections board. Levine and Ross have served on the board for 18 and 20 years, respectively.