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Councilman renews effort to license roller rinks


About 500 rowdy, combative teen-agers who drew 25 Baltimore County police cars to Towson's Skateland roller rink March 11 helped persuade County Councilman Douglas B. Riley to renew his campaign to license roller rinks.

Mr. Riley's bill, introduced at Monday night's council meeting, would give police the power to summarily close any rink deemed "so inimical to public health, safety and general welfare as to constitute a nuisance or immediate danger." Three rinks would be licensed and regulated, but problems have occurred only at Skateland on Orchard Tree Lane, near Joppa Road, where crowds of noisy teens have prompted complaints for years.

The latest bill is similar to one the Towson councilman introduced after Thanksgiving, then withdrew to try to solve the problem through negotiations. That bill also had sought to limit the size of Saturday night crowds to 400 people. However, county lawyers determined that such a limit would be illegal in a building designed and approved by county fire officials to hold more than 400 people.

Capt. Roger L. Sheets of the Towson Precinct said yesterday that the rink had been "real quiet" over the winter until March 11.

Police initially responded to complaints about fights and 100 teens loitering outside the rink. When Skateland closed at 10:30 p.m., 400 more youths crowded outside, seeking rides home. Businesses along Joppa Road were closed, and police avoided making arrests despite more fights for fear of sparking a confrontation, Captain Sheets said.

The youths eventually dispersed. One disorderly conduct arrest was made.

To control the crowd, the police called in all Towson and Parkville precinct cars, plus tactical, K-9 and traffic units.

Captain Sheets praised Skateland management for measures taken over the winter to install a metal detector, increase security inside the rink and ban gang-related dress or accessories. The rink also advises police every Saturday night on crowd size and demeanor.

"They have been most cooperative," he said.

Skateland management did not return calls yesterday, but manager Grant Hall has been critical of the licensing concept in the past. "I don't see any purpose for it," he said in December.

Captain Sheets said youth gangs on each side of the city-county line north of Govans visit the rink with an eye to settling school or neighborhood disputes. Their names, such as the Old York Boys and the Swansea Boys, Dutch Village Boys or McCabe Boys, reflect their streets or neighborhoods, he said.

"We've begun to recognize that gang problem more and more," he said, while adding that he does not feel there yet is a serious gang problem in the county. "It's not to that point. We're being very cautious."

County officers are working with the city's Violent Crime Task Force to document gang presence in the county, he said.

Saturday night, police had 10 cars near the rink to prevent a repetition of the March 11 incident, but crowds were smaller and no arrests were made. Officers stopped a van carrying 11 Swansea Road youths, but there were no weapons or arrests, Captain Sheets said.

Wayne Skinner, director of the Towson Development Corp. and past president of the Towson-Loch Raven Community Council, said he monitored the scene Saturday night.

Mr. Skinner called licensing a good approach. "It gives the county a better hold on it -- more flexibility."

He also said a new initiative is needed because "that's a lot of money the county is spending" on problems at one business.

Mr. Riley said he was reluctant to use legislation to control the problem but saw no other way. He said complaints from business owners and residents persuaded him to act.

"You shouldn't need legislation to get this under control," Mr. Riley said.

The bill would set standards for operations and gives the police power to revoke or suspend a license if rules were broken. Appeals would go to the Board of Appeals and then to the courts. A summary closing would require a public hearing in 10 days.

The County Council will discuss and vote on the bill next month.

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