Body Talk: Lessons for Liberty Road

April 28, 1991

It took countless protests, court hearings and passage of two new statutes, including an emergency state measure that prohibited patrons from bringing their own liquor to the controversial Body Talk nude bar. Finally, late last week the owner of the Rockdale strip-tease bar struck a deal, pledging to phase out nude dancers by July 10. After that, the premises of his "club" in the 8100 block of Liberty Road are to revert to a pool hall.

This is a victory for the Liberty Road communities which fought Body Talk. Although one battle may soon be ending, the struggle to maintain and improve the quality of life in the neighborhoods along that main thoroughfare continues. The worst thing that could happen in the aftermath of the Body Talk settlement would be a decrease in the residents' watchfulness. That could turn the Body Talk controversy into a Pyrrhic victory.

Ever since the explosive growth of Baltimore County started after World War II, the Liberty Road corridor has been a main conduit for families departing the city in search of suburbia. Today's shopping center parking lots, gas stations and fast-food eateries are the result of helter-skelter development that accompanied this rapid population growth. They also illustrate two other factors: 1) Liberty Road lacks political clout, and 2) families in these neighborhoods, struggling to meet the payments on their dream houses, are disinterested or too busy to get involved in community affairs.

These are the reasons that explain why a nuisance like Body Talk happened along Liberty Road in the first place. "I guarantee to you that if this kind of a use had been proposed for Pikesville, Towson or Catonsville, it never would have happened," says Mary Basso, a Randallstown community activist for the past two decades.

Groups representing the Liberty Road corridor seldom speaks in a unified voice. The squabble between the Liberty Communities Development Corp. and the Liberty Road Community Council is a telling example. Both organizations want to stop commercial and residential blight and improve area neighborhoods. But since they differ in their strategies, they are engaged in a public shouting match that distracts and confuses.

This kind of infighting discourages newcomers from becoming active and frustrates long-time residents into believing that deterioration cannot be stopped. Squabbles also bring in entrepreneurs with unsavory projects like Body Talk because they think the community is too divided to fight back.

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