July Compass - Baltimore City Dept of Planning E-News

Compass Logo over an image of Liquor bottles
The Compass is a monthly eNewsletter of the Baltimore City Department of Planning.

July, 2012

A Message from the Director…
As we enter the final phase of introduction and adoption of new zoning code legislation, I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you our thinking behind the City’s proposal to phase out non-conforming liquor outlets in the City of Baltimore, and the research supporting this initiative.
The general purpose of zoning is to promote the public health, safety and welfare of our citizens. 
So in 2010 when the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health presented us with local and national research documenting a strong and consistent link between the concentration of liquor store outlets, violent crime and poor health outcomes, we decided it was time to act.  The Health Department's "Healthy Baltimore 2015" initiative also demonstrated strong community support for decreasing liquor outlets across many city neighborhoods.
In 1971, when our current zoning code was adopted, liquor stores were no longer permitted in residential districts.  For more than 40 years, approximately 128 liquor stores have been allowed to continue operation as non-conforming uses in residential neighborhoods throughout the city. 
Given their negative connection to health and safety, the TransForm Baltimore zoning code re-write proposes to phase-out these non- conforming liquor stores. 
After the new zoning code is adopted,  owners of all non-conforming liquor stores will have two years from the legislation's effective date to phase out their liquor store operation from the non-conforming location.  Owners will have several options, including transitioning to a new product mix or use of their property, moving their liquor store business to a zoning district where the use is legally permitted, or selling their license and closing up shop at the non-conforming location. 
It is important to note that the proposed zoning legislation does not compel any owner to surrender the liquor license itself, which remains a commodity of some value to the owner.  The proposal simply provides that liquor sales for off-premise consumption will no longer be permitted from properties that do not have proper zoning (i.e., non-conforming locations).
Our goal in reducing the concentration of liquor outlets in residential neighborhoods is to improve the health of our citizens, reduce crime, and thereby create stronger, more viable neighborhoods and ultimately, a stronger, healthier Baltimore.
Hopefully this edition of The Compass will shed some valuable light on this important issue.

Thomas J. Stosur, Director

Liquor Store Image #3

A Little Bit of Background:

Zoning 101

What is Zoning?

Zoning is a tool local governments use to regulate the use of land and buildings.
 Zoning’s primary purpose is to protect the health, safety and welfare or our citizens.  Zoning is also used to create predictability and stability by creating zones where certain uses and building sizes/densities are allowed and others are restricted.
 Zoning is concerned with “WHAT” not “WHO”.  Zoning therefore does not distinguish between a “good” business operator and a “bad” business operator.  Zoning cannot account for or control human behavior, although the condition of the built environment has been shown to influence behavior.
A non-conforming use is one that, although legally established, is no longer permitted in the zoning district in which it is located.
TransForm Baltimore is an initiative to rewrite and replace Baltimore’s outdated zoning code, which was last updated in 1971 – when Richard Nixon was President. 
TransForm Baltimore, our Zoning Code rewrite process began in November 2008 and we are entering the final phase, which is to package the draft code for introduction and adoption by the Baltimore City Council.
An extensive community outreach process has taken place over the past three years, with community meetings, open houses, online feedback mechanisms, newsletters, etc.  All comments have been taken into account, and the original draft has been amended to reflect much of the feedback we’ve received.
To learn more about TransForm Baltimore, please go here

Public Health, Crime and Liquor Stores

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.
Report Cover for Healthy Baltimore 2012
 In 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

Liquor Store Photo
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 district.
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.
Liquor Store Image #2
At 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 license.

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).
Map of City Liquor Stores