Banning existing liquor stores from selling alcohol in residential zones is one of the more controversial aspects of the city’s proposed zoning overhaul.
“The presence of package liquor stores in cities is a predictor of violent crimes,” said Baltimore City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot, reading from a prepared statement at a November public hearing on the proposed zoning rewrite.
Under the rewrite in its current form, non-conforming liquor stores in residential zones, including grandfathered stores, would have two years to continue selling liquor; after that, they would have to sell something else or close.
“We support this because it’s important as a tool to promote and protect the health of this city,” said Barbot.
Her testimony drew applause from some residents.
Robert Schindler, co-owner of Pinehurst Wine Shoppe, located near the north Baltimore City line, told the city to use caution.
“I think there’s a half-dozen people in the non-conforming use thing that are a little set apart,” he said, “with no crime and no problems.”
“Livelihoods are on the line,” he added.
Muhammad Abu Khdeir, owner of House of Spirits at the corner of Fleet St. and Patterson Park Ave., was visibly upset by the proposal.
“I’ve been paying my property taxes; I’ve been supporting churches,” he said. “Now you re-zone—that’s it.”
“We absolutely understand how important this is to you,” said Wilbur Cunningham, chair of the City Planning Commission, the body charged with developing the new zoning code.
“It’s upsetting, coming here to defend what I paid for,” commented Abu Khdeir after the hearing.
In addition to Abu Khdeir’s store, the new zoning laws would also apply to Pratt Liquors at Pratt and Wolfe St. in Upper Fell’s Point.
“Taverns,” or establishments that serve liquor on-premises and also sell package goods, would have to show 50 percent of their sales coming from on-premises consumption, and 50 percent of floor space would have to be dedicated to that purpose, too.
A public hearing specifically focusing on the liquor outlet issue has been scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 10, 4:30 p.m., at the War Memorial Building.
At least three general public hearings on the zoning overhaul remain: Jan. 5, 10 a.m., Poly/Western High School; Jan. 24, 5 p.m., Southeast Regional Library; Feb. 21, 6 p.m., Morgan State University. These hearings are sponsored by the Planning Commission, which is scheduled to make a final recommendation on the proposed overhaul on March 7.
On April 3, City Council will take up the bill and hear public testimony at City Hall, 5 p.m. For an updated list of hearings, visit www.rewritebaltimore.org/news_events.html.
by Erik Zygmont