Public Health, Crime and
Baltimore City’s population has
decreased significantly from its peak in the 1960s. The number of retail liquor
outlets has also decreased, but there remains an over-abundance of liquor
stores, particulary in some areas of the city. As a result, Baltimore City has
a high concentration of liquor outlets relative to its population.
In 2010, researchers from the Johns
Hopkins University Center for Child and Community Health Research released a
study called “Zoning for a Healthy Baltimore: A Health Impact Assessment of the
Transform Baltimore Comprehensive Zoning Code Rewrite,” which among other
things, reported a correlation between a concentration of off-premise alcohol
sales outlets or liquor stores, and higher than average levels of violent
crime. In the past four years, studies in Los Angeles, Washington DC, New
Orleans, Cincinnati and Newark have all demonstrated that the presence of
liquor stores in communities is a predictor of violent crime and that the
addition of even one package store results in increased violent crime.
Additionally, The World Health
Organization, the European Union, the US Surgeon General and the Center
for Disease Control (Preventative Services Task Force) have all recommended
reducing the number of alcohol outlets as an effective tool for reducing harm
in communities. The “Zoning for a Healthy Baltimore” report recommended
reducing the number of liquor outlets selling package goods (purchased for
off-site consumption) through TransForm Baltimore, the City’s Comprehensive
Zoning Code Rewrite.
2011, the Baltimore City Health Department published its comprehensive public
health policy agenda, Healthy Baltimore 2015. As part of the plan’s
“Create Health Promoting Neighborhoods” goal, the City committed to reducing
the density of liquor outlets by 15%.
The Liquor Authority limits the number of new alcoholic beverage
licenses based on a jurisdiction’s population. Under this formula (1 license
per every 1,000 residents), Baltimore City should have no more than 630
licenses. In 1968, there were approximately 2,200 liquor licenses in
the city, and that number has decreased to 1,330 today. This is still
twice the limit established by the Liquor Authority. As a result, new
liquor store licenses are not being issued. The only way to get
a license for a new, properly zoned liquor store is to purchase and/or
transfer one from another location. (New liquor licesnes for
restaurants and hotels are still available, but owners must make a
significant financial investment in the business to qualify.)
Liquor Stores and Zoning
is a legal tool used by local governments to regulate the use of land and the
size, type, structure, nature and use of buildings on individual parcels of
land. Zoning therefore is the tool local governments use to determine
where a full range of business types, like liquor stores, can legally operate.
In 1971, our current zoning code began prohibiting new
liquor stores in residentially zoned districts. At that time, the City’s
leadership decided that existing liquor stores could stay in operation as
“grandfathered” non-conforming uses.
The assumption at the time was that eventually stores would move to more
appropriate locations or phase out naturally. More than 40 years later,
this hasn’t happened. The “grandfathering” of these outlets has
limited the ability of both city government and community members to prevent
health and safety problems associated with the high alcohol outlet density.
TransForm’s Proactive Steps
In response to these public health
findings and ongoing concerns from neighborhood residents and community
association leaders, TransForm Baltimore offers an opportunity to reduce
alcohol outlet density. Reducing violent crime in Baltimore requires
multiple strategies. Removing liquor sales from these stores as part
of the City’s current zoning code rewrite will help stabilize the most
health-stressed neighborhoods in Baltimore. More than half of city
neighborhoods surveyed by the Health Department identified alcohol outlet
density as a top health priority for action.
Article 66 B of the Maryland State
Code gives local jurisdictions the ability to phase out or “amortize”
detrimental land uses. Under these rules, local zoning changes can
trigger a deadline, or date by which such uses must come into compliance with
existing zoning law. This is what we are proposing in the case of
non-conforming liquor stores in residentially zoned districts.
The non-conforming liquor stores
impacted have had the privilege of operating as a near monopoly for over
40 years as a result of their grandfathered status, in areas where no other
liquor stores could open or operate. Once TransForm Baltimore is adopted,
these liquor stores will be given two years from the law’s enactment to either
terminate their sale of liquor, wine and beer at the non-conforming locations,
or transfer their operations to a properly zoned location in a business
The City is committed to working with
the owners and operators of these businesses during the transition.
Operators will retain their liquor license, which is issued by the state.
License holders will have two years to either sell or transfer their license
for use at a location where liquor stores are permitted.
the former liquor store locations, other retail uses,
including food stores, will be allowed to continue under the new zoning code,
as conditional uses. In addition, under special circumstances, owners
will be eligible for a hardship waiver that could extend the phase-out period
by an additional 2-years.
The City of Baltimore continues to seek feedback from impacted
license holders regarding their concerns and the types of assistance they
will need during the proposed business transition. We are working hard
to identify organizations and resources to provide technical assistance to
these license holders, and will continue to conduct public outreach.
When comprehensive zoning legislation is introduced to City Council in the
Fall of 2012, there will be additional opportunities for public testimony on
both sides of this important issue.
Zoning and Taverns
In addition to actions with regard to
non-conforming liquor stores, the City of Baltimore has committed to the
enforcement of zoning rules pertaining to all taverns in the city. While
taverns and restaurants may sell alcoholic beverages for off-premises
consumption, their primary alcohol sales must be for on-site consumption.
There have been some cases of taverns
whose actual sales are mostly for off-premises use and the “tavern” itself has
little or no activity. The attraction of the tavern license to an owner
is that it allows Sunday sales, while traditional liquor stores may only
operate 6 days per week. Taverns that operate as defacto liquor stores
are also a major public health concern and contribute to higher rates of crime.
TransForm Baltimore is proposing to
define, per zoning, that a tavern must demonstrate that at least 50% of its
liquor sales is for on-site consumption. Enforcing this loophole is
therefore a significant step toward reducing the amount of liquor sold for
off-premises consumption. This loophole has allowed some operaters
to abuse existing tavern licenses.
Such tavern owners will also be given
a grace period of two years to adjust their business model and sales mix,
convert to a liquor store if zoning allows that use, or close and transfer the
Where are Liquor Stores Located?
The non-conforming liquor stores that
will be directly impacted by this TransForm Baltimore proposal are scattered
throughout the central areas of the City, as represented by the red squares
below (You can click on the map to go to an interactive on-line version).