Liquor stores in neighborhoods seek commercial rezoning

  • Rakesh Patel, owner of the Wine Underground store in Hoes Heights, shows off his stock in 2012. Patel is seeking rezoning of the store from residential to commercial, to get around a Baltimore City ordinance that could drive him out of business.
Rakesh Patel, owner of the Wine Underground store in Hoes Heights,… (File photo/2012 )
June 11, 2013|By Larry Perl, lperl@tribune.com

Some north Baltimore wine and liquor stores may have found a way around a proposed Baltimore City zoning change that could eventually ban them from the residential neighborhoods in which they are located.

Several stores in the Hampden and Charles Village areas are seeking rezoning from residential to commercial, with the support of community leaders and their City Council representatives.

Among the businesses seeking rezoning to C1 commercial status are JT’s Market & Deli in Medfield, the Charles Village Schnapp Shop, the Wine Underground in Hoes Heights, and Roland Park Wines & Liquor in the Rolden neighborhood.

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said she is going to bat for two stores in her district, Charles Village Schnapp Shop and Roland Park Wines & Liquor, because the Charles Village Civic Association and Rolden Community Association have signaled their support. The Rolden association is negotiating a legal memorandum of understanding with Roland Park Wines & Liquors to define how the business could be used if zoned commercially, Clarke said.

In Medfield, City Councilman Nick Mosby and the Medfield Community Association are working to rezone JT’s Market, which community leaders say is a longtime community deli and market that sells beer and wine.

Spurring the commercial rezoning efforts is legislation, originally sought by the Health Department and approved by the Planning Department, to rid residential neighborhoods of many such stores — including at least five in north Baltimore — in conjunction with the city’s first comprehensive rezoning rewrite in four decades.

The city is targeting stores that offer carryout service, are in mostly poor neighborhoods and are a public health nuisance because they have been linked to violent crimes. They say the plan was based on input from communities and a Johns Hopkins University study that suggests liquor stores are pushing up crime statistics.

The stores are now classified for zoning purposes as “non-conforming” uses because they are in residential neighborhoods. Under the ordinance, they would have to stop selling alcoholic beverages, or relocate to sites in which they would be in zoning conformance.

But at least four of the five stores in north Baltimore are longtime businesses, whose owners say they are in relatively crime-free communities and get along with their residential neighbors.

Supporters say that rezoning the businesses from residential to commercial would put them into zoning conformity, give them more flexibility to operate without having to move, and increase the value of their properties.

“We have the opportunity in the comprehensive rezoning (process) to bring non-confoming liquor licencees into coformance by rezoning them as C1,” Clarke said. “It is a method (the Planning Department) will not oppose.”

But she said owners of stores that would be rezoned are nervous, because the rezoning would have to be done as amendments to city zoning laws at the end of the long comprehensive rezoning process, which is expected to pick up steam with public hearings this fall.

“There’s a certain amount of apprehension on the part of the owners, because the council doesn’t start hearings until September,” she said. “It is an anxious time.”

Clarke said community support and memorandums of understanding, known as MOUs, are important, because community leaders “want to nail down the future” of the businesses if they are rezoned C1, so that they would be restricted from changing to other less desirable types of business if the stores are sold in the future.

Mosby said he is trying to get Wine Underground and JT’s Market & Deli in his district rezoned to C1.

“The community is trying to keep Wine Underground,” Mosby said. He said the store’s owner, Rakesh Patel, “has a quality business, with a wine cellar in the basement.”

Mosby said he also supports Joyce Trigger, owner of JT’s, because, “She’s not really a liquor store. She’s like a deli.”

The Medfield Community Association’s zoning and land use committee is recommending C1 rezoning for JT’s, said former zoning committee chairman Richard Kaminski, who chaired a hearing on the issue April 29. He said JT’s “is a corner market and deli with a 6-day beer/wine license, which has successfully operated in the Medfield community for 22 years,” and that Trigger has been supportive of the community.

“We wanted to reciprocate,” Kaminski said. He said rezoning to C1 would be “a win-win” for JT’s and the community.

Trigger is troubled by the proposed zoning change that could have a major impact on her.

“I’m not a liquor store. I’m a mom-and-pop store,” said Trigger, 50, a lifelong Medfield resident, who has owned the store at 4300 Falls Road for 22 years. She said she tries to help the community as much as she can, including “running a tab” with customers who are short of money. Forcing her to move or close would hurt residents, too, she said.

City officials “don’t know that it’s not just me they’re running out of business,” she said.

 

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