Woodlawn skating rink gets another chance, briefly

Code enforcement says popular spot can stay open until April 21, leaves option for negotiations with owners

April 15, 2010|By Nick Madigan and Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

A skating rink in Woodlawn that police say consistently causes law enforcement problems has been granted a few more days to come up with a plan that might allow it to remain open for business.

The reprieve came from a Baltimore County code enforcement officer, Meg Ferguson, who upheld a decision to revoke Skateworks' license but left the door open for discussions with the facility's owners about how to save the skating rink.

The four owners now have until Wednesday to convince county officials of their commitment to avoid disruptions that police say have been caused by large crowds entering or leaving the facility at 1716 Whitehead Road.

Ferguson, who made the order public Thursday morning, said the owners could negotiate with the county and apply for a new business license.

A lawyer for the facility's owners, Paul W. Gardner, said a plan was in the works that could stave off the rink's closure, but he would not discuss it "to "protect the integrity of the process."

"A significant outline is in place, and we hope to implement it well before the deadline of the 21st," he said. "There's nothing magical or fancy about it. It's been our understanding that this will work itself out."

The county's Department of Permits and Inspections notified Skateworks' owners two weeks ago that the business had not complied with the terms of its license and would be closed. The rink and assembly hall, which opened in December 2008 in an industrial park near Security Boulevard, can accommodate 2,100 patrons.

Timothy M. Kotroco, the county's director of permits and inspections, said Thursday morning that he approved of the hearing officer's decision to allow more time "for us to negotiate with the owners and come up with a reasonable accommodation."

Kotroco said the county needed "more cooperation" from Skateworks' owners, who include the principal of Baltimore's Polytechnic Institute, Barney Wilson, and a physical-education teacher, Devin Johnson.

"The majority of what Skateworks is doing is fine, but we are trying to head off problems," Kotroco said. "We can't deal with crowds of up to 1,000 kids."

Police have said for months that the hundreds of youths that the rink draws, mostly on Fridays, cause problems at the close of business with traffic, noise, rowdy behavior and aggression, including assaults, thefts and fights.

Skateworks has generated about 175 police calls since it opened 15 months ago, police say. They also say the rink violates the closing time on its license by staying open past midnight.

Baltimore County Police Capt. Barry C. Barber, commander of the Woodlawn precinct, testified at a code enforcement hearing last week about 64 criminal incidents at Skateworks between January 2009 and last month.

Of six assaults on police officers, he said, one involved a suspect who tried to remove a baseball bat from a car to hit an officer.

When there are large crowds there and an insufficient police presence, Barber said, the officers often become targets, "and a melee can result."

Of the rink's operators, he said, "Their mentality is once the kids leave the facility, they are not their responsibility. They herd them out and shut the door behind them."

Gardner, the rink's lawyer, said county officials had objected to "a lot of trash and traffic congestion" at the site, and that it was in everyone's interest to reduce its "carbon footprint."

"My client is more than willing to sit down with the county and try to mitigate these kinds of things," he said. "Ninety-five percent of what goes on there is good, and 5 percent is bad. They're telling us, ‘We want you to have zero percent bad.' "



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