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Baltimore Liquor Store Owners Protest Proposed Zoning Changes

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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A proposed change in city zoning could put more than 100 neighborhood liquor stores out of business. Wednesday afternoon, the angry owners of those stores met with city leaders to discuss the proposal and their opposition.

Derek Valcourt explains almost all of the affected stores are owned by Korean Americans.

City officials say many of these liquor stores attract crime but many Korean-American business owners say they are being unfairly targeted.

More than 100 Korean-American liquor store owners gathered at the Greenmount Senior Center to hear firsthand from city planning officials about the new zoning proposal that would effectively strip the liquor license from their stores.

Store owners like Pac Baik are beyond angry.

“It’s basically a feeling of death because he’s going to end up losing everything if things don’t turn out right,” said Pac and Ken Baik.

More than 100 corner liquor stores were grandfathered in to city zoning changes back in 1971, but city planners and health officials say new studies show a link between violent crime and neighborhoods with high concentrations of liquor stores. That’s why under the new zoning proposal, neighborhood stores with grandfathered liquor licenses would have up to two years to either stop selling liquor, move their store to an area zoned for liquor or sell their liquor license to someone else.

“I think that they need to be looked at on an individual basis,” said City Councilman William “Pete” Welch.

Welch was on hand for the meeting and agrees the city needs to be fair to the store owners.

“Get rid of the store, you are not going to be able…it’s very difficult to transfer a liquor license in Baltimore City and compensate them,” Welch said.

But store owners taking their liquor license would ruin their livelihood and their financial futures.

“In a democratic society, this is just not even possible. This is probably something you would see in communism or socialism but not in the United States. It’s completely absurd,” Baik said.

City officials say they won’t formally introduce their zoning proposal to the city council until sometime this fall.

City officials say some of the affected store owners may be able to apply for waivers to keep operating in their same location.

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