"It's going to be hard for the seniors," said Flo Foster, president of the tenant association of the large apartment building where Jung's family's liquor store is located. Older people rely on the groceries and ATM in the store, she said.
City officials believe those concerns may be overblown. The city doesn't expect the reduction in liquor stores will reduce alcohol consumption and therefore tax revenue, said Laurie Feinberg, head of the city's comprehensive planning program. Plus, she said, the city is willing to provide assistance to help transform non-conforming liquor stores into other types of businesses, where residents will still be able to do errands.
"It's sort of like a witch hunt," said Karin Tiffany, who attended the hearing with her husband, Bud Tiffany. They own Peter's Inn tavern in Fells Point. Their business won't be affected, but if this is approved, she said, who knows what's next?
The idea that the city could eliminate some business owners' livelihood rubs many the wrong way, even supporters of the proposal.
The Rev. Todd Yeary, a pastor at the Douglas Memorial Community Church in the Madison Park neighborhood of West Baltimore, recognized at the start of his testimony that there are valid arguments on both sides of this debate. But, he said, "there's fairness in the proposal" — giving the owners up to four years to change their business models or move — and the potential for cleaner, safer communities outweighs individual desires.
"The question is, what kind of Baltimore do we want?" Yeary said.
Many community leaders have started to see the zoning overhaul as an opportunity to have a say over what businesses are in their neighborhoods, said Mel Freeman, executive director the Citizens Planning & Housing Association Inc., which supports community associations throughout the city. Over the past few days, he has reached out to these associations, urging them to speak out in favor of the legislation.
Baltimore City Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton, an enthusiastic supporter of the legislation who represents a swath of northwestern neighborhoods, sees the zoning overhaul as another way to chip away at blighting influences.
"You can't just make plans to build new homes. You have to restructure what is going on in the environment," she said. "The community is 100 percent for this."
Not all council members say the same for their districts.
Councilman Edward L. Reisinger, who represents the southwestern part of the city, said he only knows of one non-conforming liquor store in his district, and it hasn't caused problems. He called it an example of why there shouldn't be a blanket phase-out.
"We should use the law enforcement procedures currently in existence" to deal with liquor stores that are neighborhood nuisances, said Councilman Carl Stokes, whose largely East Baltimore district contains many non-conforming stores. Most of the owners of non-conforming businesses didn't realize their stores didn't meet zoning requirements, he said, and they should not be penalized for that.
"Many are well run and many are well-received," Stokes said, and shutting them "if not unconstitutional, is certainly un-American."
There are not many non-conforming stores in Councilman Brandon Scott's district in the far east of the city, he said. But his constituents feel for their neighbors whose only options for groceries are stocked next to alcohol, he said.
So he said he supports the zoning change because he remembers growing up in Park Heights, where liquor stores flourish.
"When they have the Juicy Juice right below the forties, it psychologically affects young people," he said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Andrea K. Walker contributed to this article.