Baltimore County hearing officer to decide Skateworks' fate

Crowds of teens at Woodlawn rink involved in assaults, thefts, police say

April 08, 2010|By By Mary Gail Hare | The Baltimore Sun

After more than six hours of frequently repetitive testimony in a building without water Wednesday, the fate of a Woodlawn roller skating rink rests with the Baltimore County code enforcement officer.

The county Department of Permits and Inspections notified the owners of Skateworks a week ago that the business had not adhered to the requirements of its license and would be closed, pending the outcome of a hearing. County officials say the business, which can accommodate as many as 2,100 patrons, is straining police resources, tying up traffic and violating the closing time spelled out on its license by staying open past midnight.

"My goal is to get a clear understanding so that I can make a decision based on the facts," said Meg Ferguson, the hearing officer, who often had to ask those testifying to "stick to the facts."

An attorney for Skateworks tried on several occasions to introduce information about the four other skating rinks in the county and said his clients were being held to more rigid standards.

"The county is painting this like the wild, wild West," said attorney Paul Gardner. "This letter to revoke the license is the first notice my clients have had on these issues."

Police say the rink, which is located in an industrial park off Security Boulevard, has generated 175 calls since it opened in December 2008.

Police say many of the incidents involved assaults, thefts or dispersing large and rowdy crowds of teenagers leaving the facility.

"On Fridays, one business cripples almost our entire shift," Sgt. Mark Bucsok said.

Skateworks co-owner Devin Johnson said he has 20 security guards on staff, including about six off-duty police officers. He said he has met with community groups that support the business.

"Everybody wants to shut the doors on these kids, who have no place else to go," said Johnson, who has three partners. "This gives them a place and activity."

Adam Rosenblatt, an attorney for the county, said Skateworks has not created a safe environment for patrons.

Police say calls have increased in recent months, requiring as many as 10 officers to respond along with the police helicopter and dogs.

Johnson described such response as "almost harassment."

"There is nothing going on to warrant such police presence," he said.

Police said they were often dealing with a confrontational atmosphere.

Officers described crowds of teens leaving the rink in the dark and darting across six lanes of Security Boulevard to a bus stop. Sometimes, up to 400 teens congregate at the bus stop, police said.

"We have had six incidents where officers were assaulted," Barber said.

Ferguson allowed the business to remain open through today. She said she would render a decision as quickly as possible.

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