Cut in hours ordered at 30 liquor stores Action stems from bill for rezoning status for former city bars

'Forced to lose 50 hours'

Planning Commission votes to make shops close Sundays

April 26, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

After a five-year battle with community associations and lawmakers, nearly 30 Baltimore liquor store owners who ignored zoning laws are being forced to close shop on Sundays and scale back hours.

The package stores, which started as taverns, have continued to operate under a tavern zoning ordinance that allowed more liberal hours. But the Planning Commission yesterday voted to require the operations to become taverns and keep their extended hours or remain a package store with shorter hours.

"We have been fighting this for five years, and today we are being forced to lose 50 hours a week," said Charles Yim, owner of Jack's Liquor on Hamburg Street.

Taverns are permitted to be open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, but zoning laws require that at least 50 percent of all alcohol sold be consumed on premises. Package stores may operate from 9 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday only.

Cassel Oh, owner of Knight Liquor Store in Park Heights, said that the loss of business hours will slash his profits. Owners say most of the 28 liquor stores expect to adhere to the shorter hours rather than operate as taverns.

Liquor store owners said that they didn't understand why they were being required to change their operating hours. Community leaders and city officials said that the language barrier -- most of the liquor store owners are native Koreans -- has been the root of the misunderstanding.

Neighborhood associations began complaining more than five years ago that the taverns were quickly turning into package stores after changing ownership. The groups said that the owners cordoned off the seating section of their businesses by midnight and sold alcohol for off-premises consumption only.

That, neighbors complained, caused late-night loitering, littering and panhandling outside the stores.

"It was awful," said Park Heights resident Mamie V. Williams. "Those stores turned into loud nuisances that we couldn't get rid of for a long time."

Rashad M. Ahmed, a community organizer with the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, told the planning commissioners that limiting the liquor stores will "improve the overall quality of life in the Baltimore City."

"In my neighborhood, I don't want to have alcohol sold [nearly] 24 hours a day," Mr. Ahmed said. "That's too much."

Neighborhood organizations were briefly successful in forcing the liquor store scofflaws to comply in 1992. The Maryland General Assembly passed a law that, in essence, allowed the former taverns to officially become package stores with the reduced hours.

But the law was overturned on appeal because the city zoning law doesn't allow package stores in residential zones. Taverns are permitted in residential zones.

Yesterday's action stems from a City Council bill that is giving special rezoning status to the 28 liquor stores that once were taverns, enabling them to remain in residential areas. The rezoning does not allow new package stores to open in the neighborhoods.

The City Council likely will vote on the bill Monday. If it passes, liquor store owners would have 60 days to decide whether to operate as taverns or a package stores.

Pub Date: 4/26/96

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