Baltimore Zoning Out Liquor Stores

English: Breckenridge, Colorado liquor store.

English: Breckenridge, Colorado liquor store. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Over the past few months, the Baltimore City Planning Department has been hosting hearings concerning their proposal to revamp the city’s liquor outlet zoning code.  The proposed change would force over 100 of the city’s liquor outlets to either stop selling alcohol, or shut their shops down.

For over 40 years there has been a zoning code that does not allow liquor outlets to exist in residential areas.  But, the city has allowed existing stores to remain by “grandfathering” them.  In recent years, the Planning Department has begun to analyze the effect that liquor outlets have on the communities they are located in, and their findings suggest that the outlets adversely affect their communities.

Several weeks ago I posted a story on the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance and the huge amount of data and interactive maps which they compiled and made easily accessible.  Using this data I created a table that demonstrates the strong correlation between liquor outlet density and crime rate.  Along with this map that details the locations of the non-complying liquor outlets, it is easy to see the negative affect that liquor outlets can have on communities.

Countless case studies have found that neighborhoods with high liquor outlet densities have correspondingly high crime Chart comparing crime rate and liquor store density in Baltimore neighborhoodsrates, when compared to neighborhoods with low liquor outlet density.  In their article Violent Crime and Alcohol Availability: Relationships in an Urban Community, Speer et al. find that not only do the existence of liquor outlets “strongly predict violent crime”, but “For both census tracts and census block groups, alcohol outlet densities are the single greatest predictor of violent crime.”

Yet shutting down these liquor outlets would mean the destruction of over one hundred family owned businesses, and community members are divided on the issue.  Around ninety per cent of these businesses in Baltimore are owned by Korean-Americans, and the Korean-American Grocers & Licensed Beverage Association of Maryland Inc, or KAGRO, is considering litigation.  However, the businesses also have the option to simply stop selling liquor and sell something different in its place, such as locally grown foodstuffs, a transition that the city has offered to help them with.

Ultimately, the decision lies in the hands of the City Council.  However, the City Planning Department has made its suggestion to update the liquor zoning code and is sticking by it, with the support of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.  Getting liquor stores out of residential areas is a step in the right direction, but it will not end crime in Baltimore.  There are many questions we have to ask ourselves regarding this issue.

  • Is government legislation the most effective way of implementing change at the civic level?
  • Yes, shutting down these liquor outlets would most likely lower crime rates in these neighborhoods, but why did that crime exist in the first place?
  • Are we treating a symptom, rather than tackling the root of this issue; are the liquor stores really the core problem here?
  • What other data points strongly correlate with high crime rates, and how might we change them to positively impact our communities?

Let us know what you think about this issue in the comments section below.

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James McComas

I bring a background in researching and writing to the Campaign Consultation team for my role as Administrative and Project Assistant. Prior to joining Campaign Consultation, I was a research intern for BUS 52, a year-long project which sought out organizations and individuals across the continental United States who worked to positively change their communities in innovative ways. I also assisted a journalist researching climate change issues. Read more.

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