Koreans plan rally for grocer

August 16, 1994|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Sun Staff Writer

The Korean Society of Maryland plans to demonstrate in front of City Hall today in support of a grocer who is being forced out of his store so a West Baltimore church can build a Head Start day care center.

"It is very important. We need fairness," said Kenneth S. Lee, vice president of the Korean Society of Maryland, who said he expects a crowd of 400 at today's demonstration. "Sometimes when a minority has no power and doesn't complain, they are treated like second-[class] citizens."

Mr. Lee was referring to the plight of Son Chan Pak and his wife, Kwi Yung Pak, whose small G-A Food Market in the 1200 block of Druid Hill Ave. has been condemned by the city through its eminent domain powers.

City officials, acting on legislation passed by the City Council and signed by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, are taking the property to make room for neighboring Union Baptist Church to erect a building that will house the Head Start center.

The city and church officials say the couple's store stands in the way of a sorely needed, $2.5 million day care center that would serve 250 children. But the Paks contend that the city is treading on their property rights to acquire a prosperous business they have operated for nearly 15 years.

Protest surprises city

"We want to send a message to the public and to the mayor himself. We think the city has ignored the situation," said David Pak, the couple's son. He said the city should have worked sooner to resolve the matter that pitted a large black church against its Korean business neighbors, who once enjoyed an amicable relationship.

A spokesman for Mr. Schmoke and the city's housing commissioner said yesterday that they were surprised to hear about the protest. They said city officials, including the mayor, have met with an attorney for the family and had believed the issued was settled last week.

Daniel P. Henson III, the housing commissioner, said he received a letter over the weekend from the family's lawyer accepting the city's proposal to buy another property in the neighborhood, renovate it and turn it over to the Paks in exchange for its property.

"The Paks want to remain in the community, and we're pleased to help them remain in the community," said Mr. Henson, adding that the agreement is an improvement on the city's original offer of about $28,000, which was based on the highest of two appraisals for the property.

Clinton R. Coleman, a spokesman for the mayor, said one reason that news of the protest took him by surprise is that Mr. Schmoke's relationship with the Korean community has been "very good." He said negotiations with the Paks had gone well.

"We've been proceeding on the assumption that an amicable settlement had been reached," he said.

David Pak said that while the family welcomed the proposal to relocate the store in the same neighborhood, the agreement is contingent upon the city's ability to acquire the property where the store will be relocated and a zoning exception.

Court order angers family

He said he was bitter that the family received a condemnation order signed Aug. 3 by Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan, allowing the city to take the property Friday. Mr. Pak said the order came in the middle of negotiations with the city.

The Paks' grocery store now stands alone, down the street from Union Baptist. It once was flanked by a row of buildings on Druid Hill, but those buildings were owned by the church, which razed the adjoining properties to prepare the land for its day care center.

Inside the store, snacks and groceries line the two narrow aisles. In the rear is a mini deli. Small items are kept in the bulletproof glass cage in the front, in which Mrs. Pak rings up purchases on the register.

The Pak family says the city's action to gain the condemnation order amounts to an unconstitutional taking of property without fair compensation.

"You have to compensate the right amount," said Mr. Lee, adding that the Korean community is not opposed to the day care center.

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