The Howard Park community might find an ally in City Hall in its struggle to block a gas station from taking over the site of a closed supermarket.
Aides to Mayor Martin O'Malley say they support the neighborhood's opposition to a British Petroleum Co. service station that is being proposed for the site on upper Liberty Heights Avenue where a supermarket used to serve the community.
"We certainly welcome BP to Baltimore City, but this may not be the best site for that facility," Israel C. Patoka, director of the mayor's Office of Neighborhoods, said in an interview Friday. "The community misses its supermarket, and the administration is supportive of the community in this instance."
Patoka also raised the issue of children's safety because the proposed site in the 4600 block of Liberty Heights Ave. is across the street from Calvin M. Rodwell Elementary School.
The position of the mayor's office will be crucial as BP representatives face a hearing before the city's zoning board Nov. 13. The community has held sidewalk rallies to protest the plan and intends to demonstrate its opposition at the hearing.
Howard Park Civic Association President Elton O. Jacquette and the elementary school's principal, Cynthia M. Winkler, say they oppose the BP project partly because they fear children crossing the busy intersection of Hillsdale Road and Liberty Heights Avenue to get to the station would be in jeopardy.
BP public affairs Director John C. Curry said the company has bought the vacant supermarket site and plans to develop the latest style in service stations - eight Fiberglas double-walled tanks, an "e-kiosk" that could give directions and weather forecasts, and a "BP Connect" shop that will serve gourmet coffee, sandwiches and soup.
Another gas station is across the street, but Curry said the BP station will offer additional services. "We think this will be a real asset for the area," he said.
The company's investment would be a couple of million dollars, Curry said.
Jacquette said a gas station - however high-tech - is not what's needed. Many residents are aging seniors who no longer drive, he said, and they'd prefer a supermarket within walking distance that could also be a gathering place.
"We need a food market," said Jacquette, 60, who has lived in Howard Park for 25 years. "The residents are growing old."
Aides to O'Malley said there is no immediate prospect of a grocery store opening at that site, but said they hope to see one develop soon along the Liberty Heights corridor.
To build momentum for the opposition, Jacquette and others have led walking tours of the neighborhood for 5th District Councilwomen Rochelle "Rikki" Spector and Helen L. Holton, who also sympathize with the neighborhood's cause.
"I'm looking for a public statement," Jacquette said.
In the meantime, residents are forced to travel elsewhere to do their shopping. After one sidewalk rally, Mazerlene Calloway, 71, said: "Right now I'm on my way to Walbrook to get milk and bread."