Liquor Hearing: Talking Points We Hope Not To Hear from City Council this Fall

CPHA has been covering where all members of the Land Use and Transportation Committee stand on Alcohol Outlet Density Reduction (AODR), a portion of the proposed zoning re-write which intends to reduce the density of packaged goods stores and ensure taverns stop acting like sham taverns in Baltimore. To read more about this legislation and why we need City Council to support the health of their constituency over individual liquor proprietors read here.

As the October 3rd hearing approaches we outline several lackluster arguments Citizens may be given from some City Council members as an excuse to support individual proprietors over community health this fall:

1. “AODR legislation is illegal.”

A function of zoning is to protect public health and the property owner is being given due process.  There is no case for illegality which was made clear by the solicitor’s office at the planning hearings.

The legislation provides a relatively generous amortization period and a pretty broad hardship provision, so the legislation would not survive a takings challenge, particularly a general “on the face” challenge to the legislation.

2. “The Legislation is anti-small business.”

Liquor stores are anti-small business and  the Planning Department is making it possible for stores to convert to needed neighborhood micro-enterprises. Baltimore would have more small businesses locating in our neighborhoods if we didn’t have packaged goods stores on every corner. If City Council is sincere about improving the small bossiness environment in Baltimore then we suggest they join CPHA and see this as an opportunity for needed small businesses , not simply spend their time protecting a few individual proprietors.

3. “We don’t need another vacant in the neighborhood.”

Have you seen the number of vacants in the neighborhoods we are discussing? If a council member is concerned about vacancy, one lost liquor store should be the least of their concerns. We need a more forward thinking City Council; one that sees opportunity for other neighborhood amenities in these neighborhoods and doesn’t assume vacancy as a status quo.

4. “This is discriminatory as the majority of non-conforming packaged goods store owners are Korean.”

The only thing discriminatory is where all these liquor stores are located: lower income, African American neighborhoods. This legislation is place based not race based and is targeting liquor stores that are operating on non-conforming residential streets.

5. “The Baltimore Liquor License Commission (BLLC) is the problem. Fix that!”

We need both effective zoning and effective license regulation to regulate the sale of liquor. The fact is we have too many packaged goods stores regardless of whether they are a nuisance or not. The BLLC regulates the license but this legislation is about the land that licenses operate on. We need to fix the failed BLLC but this is neither a replacement nor an excuse to ignore zoning as a secondary needed enforcement mechanism. The BLLC is  a state controlled agency where as zoning is a department where the City Council can have oversight and influence.

6. “This can’t be enforced so why should we pass it?”

The zoning enforcement officer, not the failed BLLC inspectors, would be in charge of enforcing the law changes. So enforcement should be better under dual regulation and there is no reason to think this law couldn’t be enforced by the zoning administrator. The new 50/50 law actually makes it easier to enforce in the case of sham taverns. If more enforcement capacity were needed then City Council also has the authority to increase that capacity. However, that may not even be necessary; we have Health and Fire inspectors that may currently have extra capacity and should/could be used. Again, we need a forward thinking, thoughtful, City government; a government where the failed BLLC isn’t considered some status quo for our law enforcement capability.

7. “We need to compensate packaged goods store owners who have been operating on non-conforming streets.”

Who has compensated the residents that have been surrounded by non-conforming liquor stores for decades? The City cannot  be in the business of buying liquor licenses and this is an excuse to remove this piece of legislation. Non-conforming stores have benefited at the expense of the community for years. They are now being given due process to transform their business into a needed neighborhood amenity or to sell/move their license to a conforming land use.

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Michael Snidal

Michael Snidal

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