Skate rink licensing approved

April 18, 1995|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

The Baltimore County Council narrowly approved last night a controversial bill requiring the licensing of roller-skating rinks.

The seven-member council also repealed a 6-month-old hazardous waste disclosure law.

The roller-rink bill was approved 4-3. Though it affects all such facilities in the county, its sponsor says it is aimed at Towson Skateland, where crowds of rowdy youths leaving the facility on winter weekend nights have disturbed neighbors, forced East Joppa Road businesses to close early and tied up Towson area police.

Opponents argued that a licensing requirement won't affect what teen-agers do after they leave the rink's premises.

But Councilman Douglas B. Riley, the Towson Republican who sponsored the bill, said the legislation would pressure Towson Skateland's owner, John A. Rommel, to act.

Mr. Rommel attended last night's meeting but refused to comment after the vote.

Voting against the bill were Louis L. DePazzo, a Dundalk Democrat; Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat; and T. Brian McIntire, a north county Republican. "This won't solve the problem, and it sets a precedent of licensing other businesses across the county," Mr. Bartenfelder said.

Mr. Riley said he wants Mr. Rommel to hire off-duty county police officers, wearing their uniforms, to patrol the rink's parking lot at closing time on weekends. But he acknowledged that the bill itself won't solve the entire problem because Mr. Rommel can't be held responsible for patrons once they leave the rink on Orchard Tree Lane.

Mr. Rommel has said that he strictly controls what happens inside his rink, but that he is not responsible for what happens outside.

Nearby residents and business owners in the 1600 block of E. Joppa Road have complained for years about the large and often rowdy crowds of young people who leave Skateland, especially on Saturday nights during winters when attendance is high.

Last month, police had to send 25 officers -- more than twice the normal patrol complement for the entire Towson precinct -- to handle a crowd of more than 500 youths leaving the rink.

Under the bill, the three rinks in the county -- in Towson, North Point and Parkville, and all owned by Mr. Rommel -- have one year to get licensed. If, for example, problems continue at the Towson rink, the license could be revoked and the rink closed after a public hearing.

To get the votes needed to pass the bill, Mr. Riley amended it to eliminate the county's ability to order the rink's immediate closure after an incident without a public hearing, and added a two-year automatic expiration of the law.

Also last night, the council voted 5-1 to repeal the law that requires builders of new homes to disclose to buyers if the sites contain hazardous materials. The law was opposed by the building industry.

Sellers of existing homes are required by state law to disclose any such conditions.

The measure was sponsored by Council Chairman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat; Mr. DePazzo; and Mr. Riley.

Mr. Bartenfelder voted against repeal, arguing that the law has caused no problems in the past six months and that people look on it as a safeguard. "What awful thing has happened?" he asked county Zoning Administrator Arnold Jablon last night. "Nothing," Mr. Jablon replied.

Mr. McIntire abstained.

Mr. Gardina and Mr. Riley voted for the law in October when it passed unanimously, but now say they are convinced it is duplicative and a waste of effort.

Mr. Riley argued last night that the law provides only a false sense of security because it allows builders two options -- to disclose the presence of hazardous materials or issue a disclaimer that there are none on the site.

"It didn't do what was intended," he said, adding that the law was approved in the heat of the election season and without proper scrutiny by the council.

He also said the law's sponsor, former Councilman William A. Howard IV of Fullerton, introduced it "to appease voters."

Mr. Howard has accused his former colleagues of being "bought and paid for by the homebuilders" and has said his motive wasn't political. He argued last week that if people selling existing homes are required by law to disclose environmental hazards, so should sellers of new homes.

John R. Clark, president of the Baltimore County chapter of the Maryland Homebuilder's Association, said last week that banks already require professional environmental reviews of development land before loans are approved, making the disclosure requirement duplicative.

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