September 23, 2021

Alcohol Outlet Density Reduction: Setting the Record Straight

Although there’s a lot more to Baltimore’s new zoning code than closing non-conforming liquor stores, it has been the most discussed part of the code in the media, and its passage is CPHA’s top priority.  Unfortunately, there’s been a ton of misinformation on alcohol outlet density reduction from those opposed to it and from some media outlets that don’t completely understand this issue.  We’ve created this page to help those interested in this part of the code get through the spin and understand what’s happening.

What is going on with liquor stores anyway?

According to standards set by Baltimore’s own liquor board and the Centers for Disease Control, there should be one liquor license for every 1,000 residents.  This means that Baltimore should have about 625 licenses.  However, the city currently has about 1,330 licenses.  That’s more than twice of the number it should have! The proposed code has three ways of reducing establishments that sell alcohol for-off site consumption.

The first involves requiring new liquor stores to be no less than 300 feet apart from each other in all zoning districts with the exception of downtown.  The purpose of this is to prevent the saturation of liquor stores in a particular area.

The second involves requiring establishments with BD-7  licenses (taverns) to actually function as taverns.  The idea behind the BD-7 license is that these establishments are supposed to primarily function as bars where most alcohol is consumed on site and there is only a limited number of sales for off-site consumption.  As a result, BD-7 establishments are allowed to have  longer hours than those stores that sell only for use off site.  They are also allowed to be open on Sundays.  Currently, the only requirement is that BD-7s have an area where alcoholic beverages can be consumed on site.

Unfortunately, many BD-7 licensees abuse this privilege.  Often they will only have one or two stools available with very little counter space and mainly function as liquor stores.  In recent months a number of BD-7 establishments have been cited by the liquor board for not providing any space for on-site consumption.

These licensees refuse to get a packaged goods license because the BD-7 license allows these stores to be open for longer hours and on Sundays.  As a result, communities located near these establishments must deal with the negative effects of these businesses for longer hours than regular liquor stores that can only sell alcohol for off site consumption.  It’s also not fair to those tavern owners whose establishments do function as taverns and to owners of regular liquor stores.

The new code would require BD-7 licensees to devote 50% of their space and sales to on-site consumption by two years after the code’s passage.  Councilman Reisinger – a former tavern owner himself – may submit an amendment that would increase this even further.  The purpose of this provision is to mandate that taverns function as taverns – not as liquor stores.

The third and most controversial part involves phasing out non-conforming Class A (packaged goods establishments)  liquor stores from residential areas.  A Class A establishment is  best defined as a standard liquor store that sells alcohol for off-site consumption.  Recognizing that liquor stores are not an appropriate use for a residential area, Baltimore City banned them from residential zones when it passed its last zoning code in 1971.  However, those liquor stores already in existence were allowed to stay open.  The hope was that these stores would eventually close down.  More than forty years later, this has not occurred.  The new code mandates that within two years of the code’s passage, these nonconforming establishments must stop selling alcoholic beverages for offsite consumption.  The stores are allowed to remain open if they stop selling alcohol.  They can also transfer the license to another location or sell it.  Contrary to some media reports, the city is not revoking any liquor licenses.  Only the state has the authority to do this.

What’s so bad about liquor stores?

There is an overwhelming amount of academic research that suggest high densities of liquor stores have a negative impact on their surrounding communities.

A 2013 report from the Abell Foundation provided a brief summary of research that has been performed in large cities such as Baltimore:

  • In Los Angeles, it was found that higher liquor store density was associated with higher assault rates, while a reduction in liquor stores led to a statistically significant reduction in assault rates.
  • In New Orleans, a study found that a 10 percent increase in liquor stores would result in a 2.4 percent increase in homicides.
  • A study conducted in Washington, DC found that there was a significant association between violent crime and alcohol outlets in a community, independent of all other factors such as neighborhood violent crime rates, number of amounts, and the amount of drugs.

The Abell Foundation report suggests that liquor stores may themselves actually be a cause of violent crime.

A study focused solely on Baltimore found that, after controlling for other factors such as drug arrests, housing occupancy, income level, and minority population, we can expect a 2.2 percent increase in crime for every one alcohol outlet in a community.  Given how many alcohol outlets exist in some neighborhoods, this can add up to a substantial increase.

The research mentioned above is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to connections between liquor stores and crime.  A search of the Google Scholar search engine reveals many more studies.

Where are the liquor stores slated for closure?

Here’s an interactive map of Baltimore’s non-conforming liquor stores.  CPHA also has produced our own maps that show the locations of these stores in relation to property values and food deserts. As you can see, the vast majority of them are in low income African-American neighborhoods.

I noticed that my neighborhood liquor store is non-conforming. But I like having it in my community. Will this zoning change result in the loss of an important neighborhood asset?

Not necessarily.  Many council members are rezoning the minority of liquor stores viewed as amenities by their communities as commercial.  CPHA is working with the Council to ensure that all stores being rezoned are wanted by their surrounding neighborhoods.

What is this I hear about the BD-7 changes affecting wine shops?

A number of wine stores that mostly sell alcohol for off-premises consumption have BD-7 licenses  in order to allow for occasional onsite tastings.  It would be difficult for these establishments to meet the 50% requirement for onsite consumption.  The solution to this issue is for the state to issue a new category of liquor license that applies to wine shops.

Will the owners of these nonconforming stores be compensated?

No one has compensated the overwhelmingly low-income African-American residents who have had to put up with these establishments and the harm they cause.  So there will not be any compensation from the city.  Some council members have proposed compensating these store owners, but this is nothing more than an excuse to keep them open.

Isn’t this discriminatory ?

The only thing discriminatory about the situation is that these stores are overwhelmingly located in low-income African-American neighborhoods.  This legislation is not based on who owns the stores, but where the stores are located.

Since our founding in 1941, CPHA has been open to all regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity.  We’ve been working for decades to make Baltimore a welcoming place for everyone.  It deeply pains us that anyone in Baltimore would feel targeted.  However, we cannot allow for a situation where 54.8% of all Baltimore City public school children live within a quarter mile of a liquor store while only 13.1% have a grocery store within the same distance, to continue.

Why doesn’t the city just go after the bad actors through reform of its liquor board?

It’s no secret that the performance of the  Board of Liquor License Commissioners has historically left a lot to be desired.  However, the previous liquor board implemented some much needed reforms.  But this progress is in danger of being thwarted by the new board.

Baltimore does need a functioning liquor board.  But we also need to reduce the sheer number of liquor stores in the city.  The city also has no control over the state run liquor board, but it does control zoning.

Aren’t many of these stores in food deserts? Could they be converted into something that serves the community in a useful manner?

We certainly think so.  The opportunities for what these stores could become are practically endless.  Some possibilities include grocery stores, hardware stores, delis, and laundromats.  The city has also offered to assist liquor store owners in converting their stores.  Unfortunately, the licensees have made it clear they’re not interested in selling something else unless the city forces them.

Baltimore City has a reputation as a difficult place to do business.  What impact would this have on the city’s business climate?

There are some who claim this provision is anti small business.  However, it is the liquor stores themselves that are anti small business.  Given the problems they cause in the communities they’re located in, it can be very difficult to attract other businesses to the surrounding areas.  If our most distressed communities are going to have any chance at revitalization, we need to reduce the number of liquor stores.

Won’t this create more vacant buildings?

It doesn’t have to. As we said earlier, there are plenty of things these stores could sell instead of alcohol.  Furthermore, the unfortunate reality is that these communities already have large numbers of vacants and having one more empty building would be the least of their problems.  Many neighborhoods would rather have another vacant than deal with the problems caused by liquor stores.

Also, this study of liquor stores in Los Angeles, suggests that they can lead to lower property values in low-income areas.  It may be the case that liquor stores themselves are a cause of vacant buildings.

Isn’t this anti-urban? It sounds like the city is trying to enforce suburban style separation of uses.

Only liquor stores are being targeted.  The proposed zoning code actually has a provision known as Neighborhood Commercial that would allow for a limited number of commercial uses in structures located in residential neighborhoods that have historically been used for non-residential purposes.

This sounds awfully paternalistic. What right does the government have to tell someone they can’t access alcoholic beverages in their neighborhood?

There will still be plenty of businesses for residents of these communities to purchase alcohol (in fact, there will still be too many).  They will just be on commercial corridors.

Is Baltimore the only city with an overabundance of liquor stores? What efforts are underway in other cities to combat this issue?

The issue of liquor store oversaturation in low-income communities can be found nationwide.  One example of a community working to solve this problem can be seen in South Los Angeles.  Like Baltimore, South L.A. has an overabundance of liquor stores.  During the 1992 civil unrest following the acquittal of police officers for the beating of Rodney King, many liquor stores were looted or burned down.

Much of the media coverage chocked this up to tension between African-American residents and Korean shopkeepers.  While some of this is true, a major reason liquor stores were targeted was because the residents of South L.A. were angry at the amount of them located in their community.  After the unrest, the Community Coalition worked to ensure the most problematic liquor stores did not reopen.  To this day, they are continuing to reduce the number of liquor establishments in South Los Angeles.

Another example is that of the Inner City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) in Chicago.  In Chicago, many of the liquor stores in low-income areas are owned by Muslim Arab Americans.  IMAN works with these shop owners to reduce the number of liquor outlets as a means of easing racial tension between Arabs and African-Americans while providing fresh fruits and vegetables in communities where these foods are not readily available.

Does this have any chance of passing?

The liquor store owners are very well organized and have close relationships with many council members.  However, CPHA and our partners worked very hard to mobilize communities across the city in support of this important legislation and the City Council appears to be getting the message.  The Council Land Use and Transportation Committee overwhelmingly supports it and we only need a small number of additional votes in the Council as a whole.

What can I do to ensure this important provision is included in the final zoning code?

The delay in passage of the zoning code makes it hard for CPHA and our partners to keep the public engaged.  Currently, the best thing those interested can do is to keep up to date on the latest news surrounding the code.  This can be done through following our Tales of Transform Baltimore blog.

CPHA 101: TransForm Baltimore and Existing Alcohol Outlets

CPHA has well covered the effort to reduce alcohol outlet density via the proposed zoning code that the City Council is presently considering, and last week we offered this update on where the City Council currently stands on the portion of the zoning legislation

The Baltimore City Liquor Licensing Board, a dysfunctional state agency, currently suggests that their should be 1 liquor license for every 1,000 city residents, which would amount to a total of about 625 licenses. The reality is that there are currently 1,330 licenses in Baltimore, about twice the number Baltimore should have and some are operating in residential areas.

In 1971, Baltimore recognized the excessive presence of liquor outlets and used zoning to moderate the impact on residential areas. During this process the city deemed Class A “packaged good” stores as “nonconforming uses” if they were located in residential zoned areas. As a result, they were no longer considered an appropriate use for a primarily residential area. Existing stores were allowed to stay, but no new businesses wishing to sell alcohol could establish in those districts. The hope was that the remaining stores would close over time because of their “nonconforming” status. As the current debate over Alcohol Outlet Density Reduction illustrates, many of these stores benefited from near monopoly conditions and still exist today.

City Council Bill 12-0152, known as “TransForm Baltimore,” would use zoning to reduce alcohol outlet density of packaged goods stores by removing non conforming packaged goods stores and removing pseudo taverns that are currently acting as packaged goods stores. So how will this work?

STEP 1: Phase Out of Residential Liquor Stores

License Type: Class A

  • There are roughly 100 nonconforming liquor stores operating in residential areas
  • Commonly referred to as packaged good stores where alcohol is consumed off-premise only.
  • Within 2 years of adoption, nonconforming Class A licenses must end sales of alcohol or transfer their license to a properly-zoned location in a business district.
  • Business owners may request a hardship waiver, receiving an additional 2 years to adhere to the law, but must cease alcohol sales during that time.

STEP 2: Compliance with Tavern Definition

  • License Type: Class BD-7
  • Commonly referred to as taverns.
  • BD-7 liquor licenses are permitted to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on-and-off-site from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week.
  • The new code requires that all taverns dedicate at least 50% of their sales and floor to on-site consumption to ensure they operate as a true tavern and not merely a packaged good store.

Click on this graphic to see the planned impact of TransForm Baltimore on existing liquor establishments:

City Council To Review Parking Cash Out Proposal

Councilman Ryan Dorsey along with co-sponsors Brandon Scott, Yitzy Schleifer, Zeke Cohen, Kris Burnett, Shannon Sneed, Bill Henry, and Mary Pat Clarke have introduced a bill before the City Council that would mandate the City pay the cash equivalent to what it would cost to subsidize a city employee’s parking space should that worker choose to bike, walk, or use transit instead of driving. This is known as parking cash-out.

This concept was first developed by UCLA Professor of Urban Planning Donald Shoup, author of the highly influential book “The High Cost of Free Parking“.

In 2005 Shoup wrote a report for the American Planning Association on parking cash-out. In 1994, 95 percent of American automobile commuters who drove to work alone parked for free. Though Shoup notes that some workers will drive to work alone even if they have to pay, even workers who have the option to use alternatives means of transportation will drive to work for the simple fact that free parking is a benefit workers feel they might as well use. Shoup points to studies from Los Angeles, Ottawa, and Washington, DC as evidence that employer-paid parking encourages workers to drive to work alone.

Shoup describes nine principle benefits to parking cash out.

  1. It gives commuters choices
  2. Rewards those who use alternative means of transportation
  3. Reduces vehicle trips
  4. Treats all commuters equally since those who use public transportation are effectively subsidizing those who drive to work. This is especially important with regards to lower-income workers who are more likely to use public transit
  5. It costs employers very little money. Based on California’s current parking cash-out law which applies only when the company rents parking spaces, Shoup gives an example of a company with 100 workers that spends one-hundred dollars a month per parking space. In this example 90 of the companies 100 employees drive to work. If the company were to pay employees who do not drive to work $100 a month, it would only equal $10 more per month per employee. Furthermore, in the case of California, employers can meet the cash-out requirement in a variety of ways in order to ease or prevent any potential financial hardship.
  6. Parking cash-out also allows the Central Business District to be more competitive with suburban areas because many employers in downtown areas already provide free parking to their employees. Since downtowns tend to be walkable and have good public transit access, there is a very high likelihood that employees will take the cash-out option, meaning that the extra cash could be seen as an incentive that will help attract employees.
  7. Another benefit is that parking cash-out converts economic waste into public revenue as unlike parking benefits, parking cash-out is taxable. Therefore, the money an employer was spending for a benefit an employee did not need is being spent in a more productive way and contributing to government coffers.
  8. Employees are likely to resist an employer charging for parking when it was at one point free. But through giving employees an incentive to not drive to work through paying them cash, the negative effects of free parking are diminished without charging employees for parking.

Employer parking cash-out policies have been implemented across the country. Some of the most most notable examples can be found in California where there is a mandatory parking cash-out law. Washington, DC is also considering legislation that would require employers to offer a parking cash-out option.

However, parking cash-out can even be found outside major urban centers on the coasts. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, Spectrum Health decided that when it moved downtown it would not provide free parking to its employers. Instead, it will pay them a little bit more money that they can use to pay for parking, should they so choose. However, the extra pay will be a little less than what workers will have to pay for parking. Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., a public agency that promotes living and working downtown both provides a parking cash-out scheme for its employees and actively encourages it among employers locating in the downtown area.

Reducing auto traffic within Baltimore, especially in and around the Central Business District is a worthwhile goal. Parking cash-out is one of many ways to accomplish this. The City should set a strong example for other employers by implementing such a program for its own employees. We look forward to the passage and implementation of this bill and hope to one day see incentives for private employers to do the same as well.


CPHA shows citizens how to make their communities better.  For 70 years, CPHA has been the honest and trusted broker capable of intervening and coalescing divergent views into constructive solutions. CPHA’s legacy as a first responder to the emergent needs of the region include the launch of the City Fair, removing alcohol and tobacco billboards from neighborhoods, prohibiting landlords from dumping property from evicted tenants on our city streets, and leading effective grass roots campaigns that support neighborhood stabilization. CPHA is preparing for the next 70 years by using the latest training and advocacy tools to develop the next generation of civic leaders. CPHA knows Baltimore can be better!

 Check out this video history of CPHA on YouTube.

A Few Highlights through the Decades

The following are just a few highlights of this tradition of making a difference:


With World War II looming, Baltimore citizens gathered to form a new kind of organization, a citizens led group concerned with healthy housing and wise urban planning.  CPHA’s first meeting was held on April 25, 1941 at the Baltimore Museum of Art.  The founders of CPHA had long noticed the slums developing in Baltimore, and urgent challenges of the war time industrial boom exacerbated problems. In the early years, CPHA targeted accommodating rapid population growth, housing code enforcement, and eliminating slums. Demonstrating an early commitment to legislative action and government accountability, CPHA supported national legislation for war time rent controls and acted as a watchdog to enforce the law.

Even during the war years, CPHA kept an eye toward the future of Baltimore’s housing, promoting the creation of a Baltimore Master Plan and a comprehensive housing registry to monitor the use and ownership of Baltimore property. In addition, CPHA research revealed a lack of housing options for black Baltimore families. This research led CPHA to promote the creation of additional public housing for people of color.

The post war years brought two major triumphs: the creation of City Housing Court to hear housing code enforcement cases and the early phases of the Baltimore Plan for Law Enforcement. For over a decade CPHA teamed with law enforcement and sanitation services in a block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood effort to remove code violations, clean streets, and enforce the rule of law. By the end of the decade, the Baltimore Plan, only recently implemented, had already cleaned up over 100 blocks.


In the 1950s, CPHA came of age. With continuing leadership of President Hans Froelicher, CPHA gracefully transitioned through its teenage years. In the process, CPHA earned a national reputation for leadership on urban issues while simultaneously engaging more intimately with specific Baltimore communities.

With the passage of the 1949 and 1954 Housing Acts, Baltimore and CPHA emerged as leaders in urban renewal. CPHA, with a newfound neighborhood level focus, led renewal efforts in Cherry Hill, Harlem Park, and Mt. Royal. During the 1950s, CPHA also began its zoning alert service, a mainstay of the organization. In 1957, the School Neighborhood Improvement Program began to educate the youth, and through them the entire community, about the benefits of planning and community development.

Showing foresight about growth, CPHA looked beyond Baltimore City borders as well. The decade saw the approval of the Jones Falls Expressway and the creation of Gunpowder State Park. In addition, CPHA pressured the county to develop a master plan and update zoning to prepare for growth. Nationally, CPHA joined organizations from many large cities to form the National Council for Planning and Housing Associations.


The importance of planning and housing policies increased in the 1960s as flight to the suburbs reversed population growth in Baltimore. In response, CPHA transformed from an organization with a citywide focus into a partner for communities engaged in their own improvement. With relationships in place, community organizations turned to CPHA for advice and to act as a liaison between them and the city government. The Neighborhood School Improvement Program continued to engage students, teachers, and parents in the issues of community planning. Additionally, the alerting services expanded to included planning and liquor license news relevant to Baltimore neighborhoods.

During the 1960s CPHA expanded its commitment to the green spaces and the environment in the Baltimore Region. The city, under pressure from CPHA, passed the Master Plan for the Parks. In addition, CPHA fought nearly the entire decade for the legislation and funding to create a park in the Soldier’s Delight area of the county.


CPHA added two new tools to its repertoire in the 1970s. For the first time, CPHA entered the legal realm, successfully suing Baltimore County for limiting citizen input through a reorganization of the County Planning Board. This lawsuit set national precedent for citizen taxpayer suits against government officials for arbitrary action. On the lighter side, CPHA started city promotion efforts through the Livelier Baltimore Committee. The committee hosted the annual Baltimore City fair and biannually released Bawlamer, a city guide written by those who know Baltimore best.

While expanding to new methods, CPHA had one of its most successful periods for legislation and planning. After nearly three decades, Baltimore finally passed zoning laws appropriate to neighborhood needs. In addition, CPHA aided in the creation of the first regional transit plan and the design of a new Inner Harbor. At the behest of CPHA, the County passed the nation’s strongest historic preservation law. CPHA continued to expand its role as a watchdog as well, launching mortgage monitoring services.


As CPHA approached 50, it developed and refined tools for directly assisting communities. At the beginning of the decade, CPHA released its first self-help handbooks and campaigned to create intra-neighborhood connections. As the decade progressed, CPHA introduced three programs that continue to this day: intensive neighborhood leadership development courses, the Baltimore Neighborhood Resource Bank, and tip sheets for community improvement. Entering the 1990s, CPHA’s frequent forums culminated in the City Series, an annual day of speakers and workshops.

At the citywide level, CPHA remained aggressive on the latest issues. Research and legislation focused on Baltimore’s housing. In 1983 alone, CPHA fought successfully for five housing bills, revamping everything from code enforcement to affordable housing. At the end of the decade, CPHA and the city allied to promote recycling and teach communities what they can do to support recycling on the local level.


Always in the business of bringing people together, CPHA continued its success through the creation of coalitions in the 1990s. The Coalition for a Beautiful Neighborhoods, the Coalition for Better Liquor Laws, and the Neighborhood Congress all brought diverse players together and achieved soaring success. The first two coalitions achieved precedent setting success with the passage of a law banning alcohol advertisements from billboards. In addition, the Coalition for Better Liquor Laws monitored liquor licensing in order to reign in the rampant proliferation of liquor establishments in low-income neighborhoods.

At the end of the previous decade, CPHA had commenced research into education policy. After examining school systems around the country, CPHA allied with neighborhoods to create four new, community-based elementary schools. Years of effort culminated in adjoining of the four schools into the city school system and the city adopting CPHA pioneered approaches for the creation of new schools.

CPHA also demonstrated continued interest in urgent community issues. Working to combat drugs, CPHA fought for the clearance of open air drug markets, hosted anti-drug workshops, and educated youth to combat ‘hot spots’. In 1994, the Neighborhood Leadership Fellows Program began season-long courses that would train over a hundred neighborhood leaders in Baltimore. CPHA also founded The Live Baltimore Marketing Center, which continues to attract new residents to Baltimore.


The Neighborhood Congresses hosted at the end of the 1990s, as well as the principles of Smart Growth, inspired an unprecedented wave of planning in the new millennium. In October 2000 and again in June 2002, CPHA mobilized hundreds of community, business, religious, and environmental organizations and thousands of individuals from every jurisdiction in the Baltimore region to attend two “Rally for the Region” events.  This mobilization, alongside the Baltimore Metropolitan Council and Baltimore Regional Transportation Board’s “Vision 2030” regional visioning process, called for and shaped by CPHA and our allies in the Baltimore Regional Partnership, effected a transformation of regional transportation politics and shaped a new consensus for official adoption of the Baltimore Region Rail Transit Plan.  CPHA defended the Transit Plan through the decade and fought for the creation of the Red Line light rail. Uniquely positioned to work at the city and neighborhood level, CPHA founded the Transit Riders League and worked with the communities near the West Baltimore MARC station to plan transit oriented development that will enhance their community aspirations.

Additionally, CPHA continued to improve housing and neighborhoods in Baltimore. CPHA encouraged the passage of inclusionary zoning laws, allowing low income families to move into high opportunity neighborhoods. CPHA also brought together neighborhoods and drug treatment centers to create ‘Common Ground: Not Battle Ground’, a guide to developing helpful relationships between the two parties. Approaching the next decade, CPHA created the Activate Your Inner Citizen workshop series for community leaders to learn the skills of community development from their peers around the city.

The Archives

If you are interested in doing your own research on CPHA, please visit the University of Baltimore’s Special Collection on the Langsdale Library website. CPHA documents have been archived for public use.

All posts in Tales of Transform Baltimore

New Zoning Code Moves Baltimore Forward

On December 5, 2016, the Baltimore City Council passed and the Mayor signed into law Transform Baltimore, the first rewrite of our zoning code since 1971. You can

The Baltimore Zoning Code: What’s Going On?

The City Council Land Use and Transportation Committee is currently voting on more than 1000 Amendments to the Transform Baltimore Zoning Code.  Many of these amendments are detrimental

Multifamily Conversions

This Thursday, the City Council Land Use and Transportation Committee will hold another voting session on amendments to the new zoning code. Among the topics to be voted

Transform Baltimore 101

Transform Baltimore is the name of Baltimore City’s comprehensive zoning rewrite.  Baltimore last rewrote its zoning code in 1971 and a lot has changed since then.  Much of

Public Hearings to be held on City Zoning Maps

The City Council Land Use and Transportation Committee is currently voting on several hundred text amendments for our new zoning code. CPHA is keeping those interested in the

Alcohol Outlet Density Reduction: Setting the Record Straight

Although there’s a lot more to Baltimore’s new zoning code than closing non-conforming liquor stores, it has been the most discussed part of the code in the media,

Understanding the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board

In our discussion of the zoning code, the Planning Commission and Board of Muncipal and Zoning Appeals have been mentioned a number of times.  These two separate bodies

Land Use and Transportation Committee Discusses Design Standards

The most recent Land Use and Transportation Committee worksession on Baltimore’s new zoning code was held on July 15.  At this meeting, the Committee returned to the text

Parking Requirements Revisited

Please note that CPHA was not able to attend this worksession. All reporting for this entry is based off the video of the worksession which was posted online.

Where Noted, Cyclists Use of Full Lane Now Legal in MD

Drive safely! Allow bikes full lane where posted! On certain roads and in certain circumstances, cyclists are now permitted to use the full lane of roads in Maryland. The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) has begun to install special signs, called R4-11 signs, around the state, which read: “NOTICE: BICYCLES MAY USE FULL LANE.” Better yet, there are already twenty such signs installed in Baltimore City.

MDOT has specified that the R4-11 sign may be placed:

  • At entry points onto the state highway system as information about Maryland law;
  • At the beginning of a section of roadway where the lane is 13 feet or less wide;
  • At the beginning of a section of roadway where curbside parking or other encroachments narrow the width useable for travel to 13 feet or less;
  • Additional signs may be placed at intervals of about 1/2 mile through the length of a lane effectively 13 feet or less wide through urban areas;
  • At the point where an existing Bike Lane or other bicycle facility ends and bicyclists are forced to share a lane with motorized vehicles;
  • In advance of locations with a significant number of left turning bicycles are expected

Keep an eye out for these new signs, and drive safely!  For more cycling news and resources, along with opportunities to help improve cycling in Maryland, go to Bike Maryland’s page. For information about all current cycling laws,  visit MDOT’s Biking and Walking page.

Splash Pad Review: Neighborhood Pool Replacement or Glorified Fire Hydrant?

With ongoing budget cuts being discussed in City Hall and a new City Aquatic Advisory Committee now underway, CPHA went to check out the state of Baltimore’s pool facilities, with a particular focus on the City’s new Splash Pads.

Baltimore currently has 32 pool facilities operated by the Department of Recreation and Parks:

  • 6 larger Park pools
  • 12 smaller “Walk-To” Neighborhood Pools
  • 3 indoor pools
  • 6 smaller wading pools for children
  • 5 Splash Pads
  • 17 Baltimore City Public School indoor pools that, though not run by the Department of Recreation and Parks, and mainly out-of-service, could potentially complement the city’s existing aquatic facilities in the future

According to the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks, many of these facilities, especially the Neighborhood pools, were constructed between the 50s and 70s. Built to meet Baltimore’s needs then, these pools are now under-used, increasingly difficult to maintain, and no longer adequately serve the needs of today’s population. According to a recent presentation to the Aquatic Advisory Committee,  pool attendance today remains a quarter of what it was in the 70s, operating at less than half capacity even in the busiest months of the summer.

A Closed Down Former Neighborhood Pool in Oliver

To fix this, the Department of Recreation and Parks started its “Dive-In Baltimore” project last Fall. The project’s primary goals include:

  • make pool facility equipment more efficient and less costly to maintain
  • redevelop facilities and facility programming to address the current needs of citizens
  • eventually develop new partnerships with the Baltimore City Public School system and other private pool facilities to make a comprehensive city-wide pool network

The city’s new Splash Pads are a key to this agenda. They do not require any pool attendants or lifeguard supervision and the city expects the Splash Pads to provide a cost-efficient way to provide a more effective outlet from the summer heat than the the more expensive and dilapidated neighborhood pools–and subsequently allow for increased funding and programing at the larger park pools.

The Solo Gibbs Splash Pad

So the Splash Pads save money in a time of tight budgets, but are they really a replacement for neighborhood pools? CPHA doesn’t think so.

Particularly disconcerting is the potential health impact of losing existing pool programming in Neighborhood and especially Park pools, e.g. “Learn to Swim” classes, youth triathlons, and lap swim time. Furthermore, according to a survey presented to the Aquatic Advisory Committee, a third of city third graders today are obese and, nationally, over two thirds of African-American children do not know how to swim. Splash pads don’t come with programming and they are not magnets for exercise. Indeed, it is hard to imagine anyone over the age of 12 reaping benefits from these well designed and well pressured fire hydrants–beyond that as a place to take one’s children. What do splash pads offer for Baltimore’s senior citizens, particularly those with ambulatory issues?

In a world not constrained by budgets we would improve the neighborhood pools, increase neighborhood programing, teach children how to swim, and thus make the pools meet the needs of today (and we could still add splash pads as an additional neighborhood amenity). But in a world constrained by budgets we are gaining Splash Pads and losing the opportunity for programming and exercise within our neighborhoods.

The city’s potential solution (or rather its real replacement for the outdated and dilapidated neighborhood pools) lies in its Park pools. The product of much of the Department of Recreation and Public Works’s funding over the last decade, these facilities provide a larger pool, a Splash Pad, and even a wading pool for children. Though they do require several lifeguards and pool attendants, these Park pools, combined with nearby but separately maintained recreational centers, offer all of the flexibility and  programming that the Splash Pads in isolation do not.

The Clifton Park Pool

But Park Pools face their own challenges –chiefly, they aren’t everywhere and they aren’t accessible to all our neighborhoods.  With only 6 serving the entire city, many visitors will be traveling a distance to reach the nearest one. This will put a greater demand on services and space that may be difficult to meet.  The Clifton Park pool, for example, offers a stunning pool and Splash Pad  yet its locker room may be inadequate for the number of visitors expected at such a large facility. Some people, we worry, may even abandon going to the pool altogether. Thus, if the City must make the tough decision to close some pools at the benefit of others, the decision of “which pools” may ultimately end up being most important. Finally, the new Aquatic Advisory Committee should have been part of a greater task force that included the Recreation Center Task Force which the Mayor formed in 2010. Baltimore  cannot keep operating in silos–it’s not healthy for our pools, its not healthy for our recreation centers, and it’s not healthy for our City.

So as the city continues with the  “Dive-In Baltimore” program and likely an ever decreasing budget, CPHA is impressed  by improved Park Pools like the one we toured in Clifton Park. And while we welcome Splash Pads as a new neighborhood amenity they should not be seen or sold as a neighborhood pool replacement. As a member of the Aquatics Advisory Committee, CPHA looks forward to raising these issues, making sure the conversation on pools doesn’t forget our poorest neighborhoods and is well connected to the state of our rec centers.

A Merger between Baltimore City and County?

Note: As this article was going through the editing phase, the Abell Foundation released a report examining Municipal consolidations across the Country. We encourage our readers to take a look at it.

Citylab reports that an influential group of St. Louis business and civic leaders is calling on the City of St. Louis and the surrounding St. Louis County to merge into one unified metropolitan government.

Citylab reports that an influential group of St. Louis business and civic leaders is calling on the City of St. Louis and the surrounding St. Louis County to merge into one unified metropolitan government.

Given that Baltimore City and St. Louis are the only cities in the country not part of a surrounding county and not counties in and of themselves, are older rust belt cities that have suffered population loss, and have large African-American populations with a history of racial tension, this proposal is relevant for Baltimore to say the least.

Better Together, the organization pushing for reunification, consists of major business and civic leaders in the St. Louis region. In their report advocating for unification, they present some startling facts about local governance in St. Louis City and County:

  • There are 90 different municipalities
  • 57 Police Departments (many of which are unacredited)
  • 81 Municipal Courts
  • 52,000 pages of ordinances

This fragmentation results in some stunning inefficiencies that have had a profoundly negative impact on the quality of life for residents in the St. Louis region. For example, not only do St. Louis County and City compete against each other for economic development, so do the 90 different municipalities. This results in massive corporate subsidies as municipalities try to outdo each other in order to attract businesses.

Public safety and the administration of justice is another area in need of improvement. Within St. Louis County, some police departments are well paid, well trained, and well equipped. Others pay some part-time police officers less than $12 an hour and in at least one department, officers are only provided with a badge and name identification!

But perhaps the most disturbing impact on public safety within the St. Louis area has been the use of fines in some small municipalities to pay for basic government services. The Better Together report found that while fines in St. Louis City and unincorporated St. Louis County are proportionate to their share of Missouri’s population, municipalities in St. Louis County make up 11% of the state’s population, but account for 34% of all fines collected. The municipalities most reliant on these taxes have disproportionately large African-American populations.

Better Together recommends the consolidation of St. Louis City and County into a unified”Metro City” government. This responsibilities of this entity would include control of the Courts, policing, economic development, and planning and zoning. Under the plan, school and fire protection districts would remain intact. Better Together plans to put this issue to a statewide referendum in 2020.

So what does this all mean for Baltimore?

There are many ways Baltimore City and County governments suffer from fragmentation — even if the challenges of fragamentation may not be as severe as in St Louis.

However it is important to note there is no organized movement pushing for this change and a merger of Baltimore City and County any time soon seems unlikely.

But there are examples from other regions, most notably the Twin Cities and Portland that could serve as blueprints for regional governance in the Baltimore area.

In the Portland region there is an elected regional government known as Metro. Led by a Council President elected regionwide and six council members elected by district, Metro performs the following functions:

  • Metro manages Portland’s much-lauded urban growth boundary and assists local governments with planning and development. This includes managing affordable housing.
  • Runs and provides funding for the Oregon Zoo, Oregon Convention Center, Portland Expo Center, and Portland Center as well as a regional parks system
  • Oversees and assists local communities with waste management functions through promoting recycling and composting, development of a Regional Waste Plan and management of recycling and garbage transfer stations
  • Serving as the federally mandated Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Portland region, through development of a long-range regional transportation plan

The St. Paul-Minneapolis area has a similar organization known as the Metropolitan Council. The Council is governed by 17 members who serve at the pleasure of the Governor. Included among those members are a Council Chair and representatives from 16 different districts in the Twin Cities region.

Anyone can nominate themselves to serve as a district representative. Nominees are then reviewed by a nominating committee consisting of elected officials and other prominent community members. The nominating committee then submits their recommendations to the Governor who has the final say over appointments.

The Metropolitan Council manages the regional transit system, ensures affordable housing is equitably distributed throughout the region, provides wastewater services and develops a long range water plan, and oversees regional parks planning.

The Baltimore Metropolitan Council (BMC) is similar to the above organizations in that it consists of all local governments in the Baltimore region and has a mission of encouraging regional cooperation. In addition to serving as the Baltimore region’s federally mandated Metropolitan Planning Organization, the BMC oversees a regional housing voucher program and was the driving force behind the Opportunity Collaborative.

However, the BMC does not have the amount of power and ability to make policy-making decisions as those of the organizations listed above. This is because the BMC’s board consists of the Mayor of Baltimore, one County Commissioner each from Queen Anne’s and Caroll Counties, as well as the County Executives for Baltimore, Howard, Anne Arundel, and Harford Counties. There is also a private sector representative appointed by the Governor along with one legislator each from the State Senate and House of Delegates.

With the BMC board representing such a diverse set of interests, it is difficult for members of the BMC to reach consensus on most issues. Furthermore, since each jurisdiction is represented equally, smaller counties receive a disproportionate amount of representation.

Give the history of strained relationships between Baltimore City and County, it may appear that a form of regional governance, be it through a stronger Baltimore Metropolitan Council or some other mechanism, is a pipe dream. However, if one looks at the regional arrangements already in place, it is not that far fetched.

Baltimore City currently manages Baltimore County’s water system and both governments are parties to EPA water system consent decrees that have resulted in skyrocketing water and sewer rates in both jurisdictions. Baltimore County also sends some of its trash to be burnt at the Wheelabrator garbage incinerator, making waste disposal a regional issue that requires regional solutions.

Most likely unbeknownst to most City and County residents the Baltimore County Commission on Arts and Sciences provides funding for a number of arts and cultural institutions in Baltimore City. These include the Baltimore Museum of Art, Walters Art Gallery, and the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.

As mentioned above, the Baltimore Metropolitan Council runs a regional voucher program in recognition of the fact that all jurisdictions in the region must play a part in providing homes for low to moderate income households.

Baltimore City and some of its suburban neighbors are already,working together on some issues of regional importance. Yet we lack a strong, formal, regional policy-making body that can coordinate cooperation between all regional jurisdictions.

Baltimore City and its suburbs are interconnected and the boundaries between our jurisdictions are at times little more than lines on a map. Everyone benefits when we work across municipal lines to work for the betterment of the Baltimore region. Even if a city-county merger may not happen tomorrow, steps towards regional cooperation should be taken today.

Last Chance to Comment on City School Closures

The Baltimore City School Board is planning to close six public schools in an effort to save on costs and reinvest in better buildings: Langston Hughes Elementary, Abbottston Elementary, Dr. Rayner Browne Academy, Northeast Middle, W.E.B. DuBois High, and Heritage High. The closures are part of the city’s “21st Century Buildings Plan” – a major renovation of the public school system aimed at updating school building infrastructure and improving learning environments – but have been largely met with public opposition. The school board is holding a final meeting on Tuesday, December 16th, for students, parents, and concerned residents who’d like to voice any last concerns/protests related to the closures.

Home Act

Understanding the Baltimore County Home Act

The Baltimore County HOME Act would outlaw discrimination against renters based on their source of income. Sources of income covered under this law can include inheritance, disability payments, alimony, and Housing Choice Vouchers.  CPHA is honored to join our partners at Baltimore County Communities for the Homeless, the Public Justice Center, and the Baltimore County Home Act Coalition in working towards passage of this important legislation.

We are no stranger when it comes to improving quality of life in Baltimore County. In the 1950s CPHA pushed for a Baltimore County master plan, for much of the 60’s CPHA fought for the establishment of the Solidiers Delight Natural Environment Area, and in the 1970s we even sued the County for limiting citizen input with regards to reorganization of the County Planning Board. In the year 2000 we held our Rally for the Region at Sudbrook Magnet Middle School in Pikesville. Most recently, we held two community workshops as part of our outreach work with the Opportunity Collaborative in Dundalk and Owings Mills.

Unfortunately, there are a great deal of misconceptions about who Housing Choice Voucher recipients are, the Housing Choice Voucher program itself, and what this legislation sets out to do.  We’ve set up this page to explain the facts behind these issues and to show how such a law will improve quality of life throughout Baltimore county.

CPHA would like to thank Beyond the Boundaries for making our work on the HOME Act possible.

What is a Housing Choice Voucher?

Formerly known as Section 8 Vouchers, the Housing Choice Voucher program is a federal program developed in the 1970s. They are distributed to low income individuals and families who qualify by local housing authorities. Many times recipients do not receive their voucher until they have been on the waiting list for a very long time. In Baltimore County, the average wait time for a voucher is nine years. A voucher can only be used in the jurisdiction it is issued in.

After recipients are awarded their voucher, they may take it to any property that accepts it and charges the amount of rent that is within the guidelines set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The voucher does not necessarily pay for all of their rent. Recipients are required to pay 30% of their income towards the rent. Those portions of the rent not paid by the tenant are paid by the local housing authority with funds provided by HUD to the landlord through direct deposit. The only requirement for landlords is that they pass a basic housing inspection in order to receive payment.

Who are Housing Choice Voucher recipients?

In Baltimore County:

  • 32% are senior citizens
  • 25% are low wage workers
  • 30% are people with disabilities

There is also a special program for veterans and their families called the Veterans Affairs Supplemental Housing (VASH) program.

Why is the HOME Act Needed?

The HOME Act is needed because many landlords refuse to rent to tenants with Housing Choice Vouchers. As a result, voucher-holders are concentrated in lower-income areas of the County. This contributes to racial and economic segregation.

In what communities do voucher recipients live in?

You can view a map of Housing Choice Voucher recipients throughout Baltimore County right here.

Here’s a listing of the number of Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) in select Baltimore County communities. The entire population of these communities are in parentheses:

  • Randallstown (32,430) : 533 HCVs
  • Dundalk (63,597) : 934 HCVs
  • Essex (39,262) : 558 HCVs
  • Middle River (25,191) : 462 HCVs
  • Milford Mill (29,042): 568 (HCVs)
  • Pikesville (30,794) : 395 HCVs
  • Reisterstown (25,968) : 329 HCVs
  • Woodlawn (37,879) : 355 HCVs
  • Towson (55,197) : 242 HCVs
  • Perry Hall (28,474) : 118 HCVs
  • Lutherville (6,504) : 1 HCV
  • Timonium (9,925) : 3 HCVs

As can be seen from the data, vouchers are heavily concentrated on the east and west sides of the County.

Why do some landlords refuse to take Housing Choice Vouchers and why do they oppose the HOME Act?

In public, landlords will state that taking Housing Choice Voucher recipients is an administrative burden and that anti-discrimination protections for voucher-holders are forcing them to take part in a government program.

These are questionable arguments. The only requirement for landlords is that they allow a very brief housing inspection in order to ensure tenants are not living in substandard housing. Some opponents of the law have spread false information that the process for evicting Housing Choice Voucher recipients is more difficult than that for other tenants or that landlords are not allowed to enter the apartments of voucher recipients. Furthermore, we know of at least one large landlord that will take vouchers in less affluent parts of the county but will not take them in more prosperous areas.

The more likely explanation is that landlords refuse to take vouchers due to unfair stereotypes about voucher holders. However, landlords will still be allowed to refuse to rent to potential tenants with a criminal history, poor references, bad credit rating, or any other criteria they judge relevant. The HOME Act only mandates that landlords not discriminate against a potential tenant due to their source of income.

What effect will the HOME Act have on the distribution of poverty throughout Baltimore County?

By outlawing discrimination against voucher holders, the Home Act will open up housing opportunities throughout the County for low income individuals. This will help to prevent and reduce concentrations of poverty.

How will this effect Baltimore County Public School Children?

It’s been said that “housing policy is school policy”. There’s a great deal of research that academic success is closely related to economic status. Research suggests that poor children perform better academically when they attend the same schools as their more affluent peers. The HOME Act will significantly increase the likelihood that a family with a Housing Choice Voucher will be able to move to a high opportunity area and put their child in a good school. It will also be an important tool in preventing schools from being overwhelmed with low-income students. You can read David Rusk’s Housing Policy is School Policy paper for more information.

Do any other jurisdictions have similar laws?

Yes. Howard and Montgomery County, the City of Frederick, and the City of Annapolis have passed similar laws. This law also exists for certain properties within Baltimore City.

At the state level, Utah, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Wisconsin have such a law. Washington, DC also protects Housing Choice Voucher holders from discrimination.

What are the HOME Act’s chances of passage? What can I do to help it pass?

Advocates for the HOME Act have met with several members of the County Council and a number of them have been sympathetic. The County Executive is also in support of it. This April, more than 100 Home Act supporters packed the County Council Chambers in support of this bill. You can help by signing up for our email newsletter to stay aware of the latest developments, testifying at upcoming County Council meetings and hearings, and talking to your friends and neighbors.