Baltimore's effort to rein in non-conforming liquor stores is welcome news in Park Heights ("Better health through zoning," June 19). In the Park Heights Master Plan area, we have the highest density of liquor establishments in Maryland. When I drive around the neighborhood at night, the only undesirable activity I see is always near liquor stores.
We have non-conforming liquor store in the middle of residential areas that undercut the whole notion of safe, secure neighborhoods. You would hope to see couples taking evening strolls, but the couples stay indoors, replaced instead by small groups in various stages of inebriation idly hanging out. Other neighborhoods would never tolerate such disruptions to their communities, and we're tired of putting up with them in Park Heights.
Two years ago, Park Heights Renaissance was instrumental in convincing the Maryland General Assembly to force liquor stores in the neighborhood to open at 9 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. Other neighborhoods have contacted us and want to follow our lead. We continue to advocate on the community's behalf for more restrictions on liquor establishments. Having fewer of them would be a major improvement.
It is well understood in the Park Heights community that the high concentration of liquor outlets contributes to violent crime and other health problems. According to an analysis by the Northwestern District police commander, the highest crime rate occurs within a three-block radius of liquor stores. Knowing that, an inordinate number of police are, in effect, babysitting the liquor stores to prevent trouble, which seems like a waste of personnel. Having fewer liquor outlets would have an immediate impact on crime. It will also improve the physical health of residents. Park Heights has high rates of diabetes and heart disease, and alcohol only exacerbates these conditions.
I understand the arguments about liquor stores as small businesses, but liquor stores are not like most small businesses. People have been killed in front of liquor stores. Drugs are being sold outside of, and inside of, liquor stores in Park Heights. The unsightly, dilapidated appearance of most stores does nothing to add value to our streets.
Clearly, we have an infestation of liquor stores. We can't stand by and let this plague destroy our community. The number of liquor stores in Park Heights must be reduced. The city's desire to crack down on non-conforming liquor establishments is a positive step that will make a positive difference in our community.
Julius Colon, Baltimore
The writer is president and CEO of Park Heights Renaissance.