City targets 71 pay phones; Board of Estimates votes to remove illegal outdoor units; Called a nuisance; Move an attempt to cut drug activity on streets

In an effort to reduce the number of places where drug dealers conduct business in Baltimore, the city's Board of Estimates voted yesterday to take down 71 more pay telephones.

None of the outdoor phones has the proper permits, and city officials will charge $162 per telephone to remove them -- if their owners don't take them down first -- city public works officials said.


Yesterday's action occurs five months after the city began cracking down on the more than 600 illegal pay phones in the city. Councilwoman Helen Holton, who introduced legislation about the telephones, heralds the action.

"I did it because I heard the community's cry of illegal pay phones," Holton, of the 5th District, said yesterday. The phones were a nuisance to residents, she said.


Kristine Dunkerton, staff attorney for the Community Law Center, said officials have worked hard for the past year to have phones taken out of neighborhoods. "We're thrilled. The more efforts the city and state make to reduce the total amount of pay phones in the city, the better off the city is going to be."

Board of Estimates members voted to deny permits for the illegal telephones. Those neighborhoods have enough telephones for people who don't have phones at home, board members said.

Baltimore has about 1,200 pay telephones, and more than half of them were put up without permits, Holton said.

Telephone owners were told they must have permits before the July 1 permit enforcement took effect. Since then, more than 600 applications have been submitted.

The city has removed more than 500 illegal phones since May 20, said public works spokesman Kurt Kocher.

Jeff Smith, owner of STS Communications, said yesterday that more than 30 of his phones have been removed. He acknowledged before the board that some phones are used for drug activity, but said it's a "misconception that all phones are used for drugs."

Smith argued in vain to get permits for four of his telephones -- on Fait, Madison, Kenwood and Milton avenues.

Board members say they'll review permits requested by Davel Communications Inc., which owns 39 of the 71 telephones in question. Davel has hundreds of telephones in the city.


Edward Shapiro, Davel's attorney, told the board that he's looking forward to working with city officials and hopes the matter won't end in litigation.