Faced with angry opposition from business owners and fearful community residents, the City Council is delaying action on a bill to put Baltimore's red-light district out of business.
A public hearing on the measure scheduled for today has been postponed until fall at the request of the bill's sponsors, who say they need more time to address community fears. The decision came after more than 100 people, including several council members, turned out last week to oppose the bill before the Planning Commission.
"The major problem is community concern about the relocation of The Block businesses to neighborhoods from Cherry Hill to Canton," Council President Mary Pat Clarke said yesterday.
The hearing scheduled for 5:15 p.m. today has been recast as an informational session where Planning Department staff will brief the council on issues surrounding the bill, Ms. Clarke said. No testimony from the public will be heard.
Under the proposed bill, the show bars, peep shows and erotic book stores making up The Block would be allowed to relocate from a stretch of East Baltimore Street to areas zoned for heavy industrial use.
But that provision has caused concern among residents who live in communities close to industrial neighborhoods, many of which are in the waterfront areas of southeastern and southwestern Baltimore. At last week's Planning Commission hearing, residents said they feared that adult entertainment businesses would invade their neighborhoods if those businesses were forced from their current site.
"Ultimately, I think the bill will pass. But there needs to be more community education and greater assurances that The Block will not suddenly pop up in their neighborhoods," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who supports the measure. "I guess we have not had enough time to make those assurances."
The legislation is aimed at forcing The Block from its downtown location, which city officials are eyeing for redevelopment. Under the proposal, the businesses would not be allowed to relocate closer than 1,000 feet -- about three city blocks -- from one another.
"I knew it was going to be tough," said Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, a 3rd District Democrat and the bill's leading sponsor. "You don't want to move forward until the neighborhoods actually understand it.
"We have to take the time to make it happen."