Pressure forces city to rethink plans for area


November 28, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

Backing down from intense community opposition, th Schmoke administration is abandoning its original strategy of legislating The Block out of business.

Instead, the mayor's administration is putting the finishing touches on a bill that would leave existing adult entertainment businesses in place, while for the first time requiring them to be licensed.

But a source said the administration is drafting a second bill that would allow Baltimore to condemn the businesses in the 300 block of E. Baltimore St., one of the two blocks that make up the city's red-light district.

Owners of condemned businesses would be compensated, something not contemplated in previous efforts to eliminate The Block.

The bill regulating adult businesses would allow new ones to open -- but only in certain downtown commercial areas and only after a public hearing. The measure is likely to be introduced into the City Council early next month.

"There are no controls over these businesses now," said Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd, who last spring sponsored the bill to eliminate The Block. "This, for the first time, offers some controls."

He said the original bill to eliminate The Block, which was considered earlier this year, was doomed by the intense opposition from community groups in South Baltimore and from council members representing those areas.

His bill, which was backed by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, would have forced adult entertainment businesses in the 300 and 400 blocks of E. Baltimore St. to close and move to industrial areas.

Most of those industrial areas are in the southern part of the city, many of them close to residential neighborhoods. That prompted loud protests from residents who said the city was trying to dump problems long associated with The Block -- including prostitution and drug dealing -- at their doorsteps.

City planning officials met with South Baltimore community groups throughout the summer in an unsuccessful attempt to quell opposition to the bill.

"It is certainly good to know that they are not going to spread these businesses flagrantly around the 6th District," said Delores Barnes, president of Concerned Citizens for a Better Brooklyn.

But while the new proposal appears to be agreeable to South Baltimore residents, it could provoke opposition among council members who represent downtown areas.

"The bill they have drafted is not what we had wanted," said Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, whose district includes much of downtown.

But Mr. Cunningham pointed out that under current law, adult entertainment businesses can move into commercial and industrial areas throughout the city. If they don't have a liquor license, they are unregulated by the city, he added.

Establishments featuring live dancers or nude entertainment can found in many parts of the city. Zoning officials count at least 18 of them besides the 28 adult entertainment emporiums on The Block.

The proposal should give the city more control over adult entertainment, Mr. Cunningham said. "The city would gain control of these businesses through a licensing procedure in this bill," he said. "Right now, the only control we have is through the liquor board. But some of these places have no liquor licenses."

The proposal, which Mr. Cunningham is fine-tuning with the help of administration officials, would not allow hawkers in front of businesses and would set standards for the outside appearance of the businesses.

"If those businesses are involved in criminal activity, there would be opportunity to pull their licenses," he said. "Also, we'll have a mechanism to see that they remain an entertainment business and nothing more."

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