A battle is won, another starts

Loch Raven: Businesses that brought trouble are gone. The hard part is rebuilding the community's good name.

May 30, 2000|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

On Orchard Tree Lane in Loch Raven, the leftover beer bottles on the road are gone. So are the broken windows, the late-night brawls and the throbbing techno music that shook the night air.

For five years, this neighborhood lived in fear as an after-hours dance club's youthful clientele partied the nights away. It has been more than a year since Liquids -- formerly Club 101 -- left town. Residents and business owners, though they say good riddance, are only cautiously optimistic.

This was just one battle won against nuisance businesses. The neighborhood had rid itself of a strip joint and reined in a rowdy skating arena. Then came the tough part, they discovered: cleaning up the area's tarnished image.

"I knew in the end that justice would triumph," said Jason Bulkeley, manager of Orchard Market & Cafe, a Persian restaurant. "I knew that all the bad things the club was doing to the community would catch up with it. It gave this plaza a very trashy reputation. It was getting hard doing business here.

"Thank goodness it worked out. The good thing is that there are concerned people here who want to make this a better place. It's just a question of how."

The problems in the Towson enclave tucked away from Joppa Road seemed to start about a decade ago, community leaders said.

"This was an older community established more than 50 years ago," said Donna Spicer, director of the Loch Raven Community Council, which oversees several neighborhoods in the area. "Like a lot of other areas, it was neglected. Then it was like there was a steady hit in that particular area. First Skateland, then Club Manhattan and Club 101."

At Skateland roller rink, the situation had become so bad by the early 1990s that male teen-agers were frisked for concealed weapons before they were allowed inside. Guns and knives were occasionally found on the boys. Brawls often erupted inside and outside.

Local businesses began to close early on weekends for fear of being robbed by Skateland patrons, and police cars routinely patrolled the area. Vehicles on nearby streets often were vandalized after the rink closed on Saturdays.

Nearby Club Manhattan showcased nude dancers until a police investigation discovered the bar didn't have the proper zoning permits for it. In 1995, a District Court judge ordered the bar to close.

But Club 101, later known as Liquids, became the area's biggest and longest-running headache.

Residents and business owners said that when the club opened on weekends, hundreds of teen-agers descended on the dance spot. Liquids didn't sell alcohol, but patrons who were old enough could bring liquor.

"There were always fights in the parking lot, men urinating in the trees and couples having sex behind the building," said Shirley Chandler, who lives behind the plaza, on Green Pastures Drive. "Even with my windows closed, I could hear the boom-boom of the bass from the club. It was like that every weekend."

Igor and Polina Pilipenchuk got an even closer view of the havoc Liquids created.

Ballroom dancers from Belarus, they shared the building with Liquids for five years. In the afternoons, the Pilipenchuks trained for dance competitions and taught students how to tango, rumba and cha-cha. In the evening, Liquids took over.

"I didn't feel safe here at night," said Elsa Interior, 50, who takes dance lessons at what is now Atlantic Ballroom. "When we'd finish and the club would start opening, we'd rush out."

Police kept busy

Capt. Charles Rapp, commander of the Towson police precinct, said it wasn't unusual for 50 or so police cars to rush to the scene on nights when the club attracted 1,000 people under 21 who would pour out into the streets in the early morning.

"It was very much a nuisance," Rapp said. "We were pretty much there every night they were open. It made it the kind of neighborhood you didn't want to come into and made prospective businesses not want to be a part of that."

The community fought back.

Residents started testifying at zoning hearings in an attempt to shut down the club. They monitored businesses moving into the area. They began lobbying elected officials to ban after-hours clubs.

In 1998, the owner of Liquids -- John A. Giorgilli, who recently was granted approval to operate an after-hours club in Baltimore -- was arrested on drug charges. He was given a four-year suspended sentence and was ordered to serve four years of supervised probation. His club closed last year.

With the club closed, the Pilipenchuks jumped at the opportunity to take over the building. Recruiting three partners, the national dance champions took over the building's lease and began a two-month cleanup.

They scraped gum off the wooden floor boards. They replaced cracked mirrors and broken windows. They renovated bathrooms that were missing toilets and patched up walls that had fist-sized holes punched through the plaster.

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