While the population of Baltimore has declined from its peak in 1950, the number of liquor outlets has, for the most part, stayed the same. A yet-to-be-released study from Baltimore public health researchers indicates that the high density of liquor outlets in low socioeconomic areas creates hot spots for criminals as well as generates violent and property crimes. In addition, a higher density of these outlets leads to increased alcohol consumption from both legally aged adults and minors. Many of these outlets are located in close proximity to schools and places of worship.
Although this research on the effects of liquor store density in Baltimore has not been officially published, some of the data has been presented publicly. In addition, the authors of the research, two Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health professors, have written a letter to the Sun explaining and defending the implications of their research.
The current Baltimore zoning law, which was last updated in 1971, forbids new Class A Liquor License establishments (stores that sell packaged alcohol for off-premises consumption) from opening in residential areas. However, liquor stores that already existing in residential areas prior to 1971 were grandfathered in, which means they were allowed to continue to sell liquor as well as to transfer the liquor license, and the store, to another vendor.
The Baltimore City Planning Department and the Department of Health, in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins research team, aim remove the grandfathering clause and gradually close down these non-conforming liquor stores through a new comprehensive zoning code update known as Transform Baltimore.
The current draft of the new zoning code provides that these non-conforming stores be forced to either relocate to a designated commercial zone, close down, or stop selling liquor in a period of two years. Liquor store owners may apply for an extension of two more years under special circumstances. Since some of these stores exist in Baltimore’s “food deserts,” it is intention of the city to encourage these outlets to convert to corner stores that sell fresh groceries.
Out of the almost 300 Class A establishments in Baltimore, 128 are in zoning districts as a “non-conforming” use. According to calculations done by Johns Hopkins researchers, closing down about 100 of these non-conforming liquor outlets will lead to estimated reduction of about 700 cases of violent crimes committed per year.