A Park Heights grocery store that police called a center for drug traffic must be razed within 30 days, a Baltimore Circuit judge ruled yesterday, allowing the city for the first time to exercise its nuisance abatement powers to demolish a building.
The ruling by Administrative Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan upheld a District Court decision in March ordering Allen B. Becker of Owings Mills to tear down Springhill Market, at 2900 Springhill Ave. Becker has until Oct. 1 to clear the site or post $100,000 bond to stay the decision and appeal. The corner grocery store has been vacant and closed since late February.
"I think the District Court was right on the mark in ordering this property to be torn down," Kaplan said during yesterday's appeal hearing in downtown Baltimore.
Becker, 72, and his attorney, Ira L. Oring of Baltimore, declined to comment.
Assistant State's Attorney Ann Refolo said she was pleased with the decision, as were the dozen police officers and community residents who attended the hearing.
"It's been another victory for the community," said Henry Thompson, a community organizer for HotSpots, a program that pours state money into prevention in crime-infested neighborhoods.
For months, residents and community organizers have worked with housing prosecutors and police to fight the open-air drug market that had taken over their neighborhood.
A bus load of residents attended the first nuisance abatement hearing Feb. 23 and nodded in agreement as Northwestern District officers testified about receiving more than 1,300 reports alleging criminal activity at the store since 1995, including 486 drug transactions.
Five officers told District Judge Timothy J. Doory in February that the sparsely stocked store had become a base for drug dealers and recounted three incidents since April 1998 in which cocaine, weapons and drug paraphernalia were seized inside the store.
Doory gave Becker and Ulysses Holmes, 64, who was leasing the building, almost one week to create a plan to stop the store from being a drug-trafficking base or face its demolition. He also ordered the store closed.
Although the store is no longer open, Northwestern District Officer Herbert Lindemeyr said yesterday it is still attracting drug dealers and loiterers.
"It's closed down but it's still a problem with the [outside pay] telephones there," he said.
Oring told Kaplan that Becker closed the store and forced Holmes to leave. He said the building should be allowed to remain so that Becker can turn it into a residential property.
"The property in and of itself is not a drug nuisance," Oring said.
But Kaplan disagreed and said the plan submitted to Doory was inadequate. "The only way to prevent drug distribution to occur on that property is to tear it down," he said.