Head Start supporters urge condemnation of grocery Hearing held on expanding day care site


Alma Walker, a longtime resident of the Upton community in West Baltimore, said yesterday she was sorry that a grocer might have to close to make room for the expansion of a church's day care center.

But she nonetheless supports a City Council bill that would get the bulldozers moving.

"Progress is progress, and these children are more important than the store," said Ms. Walker, adding that the grocer could relocate.

She was among 150 people who packed the council chambers for a hearing before the Urban and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee. The hearing sought public comment on a bill that would allow the city to demolish the G-A Food Market at 1205 Druid Hill Ave. to clear space for construction of a $2.5 million Head Start day care center.

The hearing pitted supporters' "commitment to children" against the property rights of Son Chan Pak and his wife, Kwi Yung Pak, who own the grocery.

Most of the 16 speakers supported the bill, introduced by Council President Mary Pat Clarke, allowing the city to begin condemnation proceedings so Union Baptist Church, at 1219 Druid Hill Ave., can provide day care to more children.

Supporters included parents of children who attend the center, located in a stone building next to the church.

"My child seems to grow a lot more and so do a lot of children who attend," said James Dorsey, whose passionate support caused him to leave the microphone in tears.

But David Maxwell Jr., who lives in the community, discounted the value of the day care center, saying that the store was valuable to elderly people like him.

"There are many of us who can walk down the hill to [a supermarket] but can't walk back," Mr. Maxwell said, referring to a store five blocks from the G-A Food Market. "I'm fighting for a store that's convenient for me."

M. Albert Figinski, a lawyer representing the Paks, said the family paid $97,941 for the property and other assets of the store.

He calculated that the business is now worth $149,661 because of inflation over the years. He said the Paks rejected a "meager" offer of $70,000 from Union Baptist, and is seeking $250,000.

Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development officials said the Paks would receive compensation based on the highest of two appraisals plus relocation costs if the city takes the property, located in an urban renewal area.

David Pak, the son of the grocers, said losing the store "will have a profound impact on our livelihood."

"My parents have worked tirelessly every day of the week, sacrificing to see that this business survives," he said.

But Councilwoman Agnes B. Welch, D-4th, who chairs the committee, said property owners sometimes have to make way for progress.

"This is a process the city uses all the time," she said.

She said she would ask the housing department to try to secure a building across the street for the Paks so that they can stay near their customers if the bill is approved.

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