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City Councilman Dorsey seeks to bar new gas stations in Baltimore, with aim of improving climate, luring supermarkets

City Councilman Ryan Dorsey wants to block any new gas stations from opening up in Baltimore, a proposal he introduced Monday as a way to attack the fossil fuel infrastructure and give food deserts a better chance at luring grocery stores. This 2019 photo shows the regular price at a pump.
City Councilman Ryan Dorsey wants to block any new gas stations from opening up in Baltimore, a proposal he introduced Monday as a way to attack the fossil fuel infrastructure and give food deserts a better chance at luring grocery stores. This 2019 photo shows the regular price at a pump. (Jennifer Lett / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

City Councilman Ryan Dorsey wants to block any new gas stations from opening up in Baltimore, a proposal he introduced Monday as a way to attack the fossil fuel infrastructure and give the city’s food deserts a better chance at luring grocery stores.

Critics lined up to condemn the bill — one in a package of three Dorsey introduced to make it less attractive for people to drive cars in Baltimore — calling it “radical,” “backward” and “shortsighted.”

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The bills now move to committees for hearings. Dorsey’s other proposals would increase the cost to operate parking facilities, change requirements for off-street parking tied to building construction, and give city workers an option of taking a cash payment in place of a stipend for parking expenses.

Dorsey, a Democrat, said the legislation would have a powerful local impact on the environment.

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“When the public thinks of fossil fuel infrastructure, the first things that come to mind are things like the Dakota Access Pipeline, mountaintop coal removal, ‘bomb trains’ and things like that,” Dorsey said from his home in Northeast Baltimore. “The public doesn’t generally jump to things like ‘How much parking are we creating?’”

Limiting gas stations, he argued, also would make it more likely that grocery stores would agree to locate in communities that lack access to healthy food. Pointing to research that indicates dollar stores serve as de facto grocery stores, Dorsey said he believes gas stations also cut into the market and can make it harder for grocery stores to operate.

Across Baltimore, 184 gas stations are open to the public, including newer ones with expansive selections of fast food and staple items. Under current regulations, new ones can open so long as the city’s zoning allows it.

Councilman Ed Reisinger, a South Baltimore Democrat, said the proposal to prohibit new gas stations was a nonstarter for him. Two of Dorsey’s bills are referred to the Land Use Committee, which Reisinger chairs. The third goes to the transportation committee, which Dorsey chairs, for consideration.

“This is Baltimore,” Reisinger said. “Think about people coming to the casino and baseball and football games. To say no more gas stations can be built in the city, that is radical. I am not going to support that.”

Besides being impractical, Reisinger said he also does not buy the argument grocers eschew communities with gas stations. He said at least two gas stations were in the immediate area when an ALDI store opened years ago on Washington Boulevard in Morrell Park.

Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young has not taken a position on the bills. A spokesman said the administration would review the legislation.

Retailers balked at the proposal.

“The sale of gasoline remains an essential item for any community, the economy and Baltimore City. A prohibition is shortsighted,” said Ellen Valentino, executive vice president of the Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Distributors Association, which represents the convenience and service station industry.

“These service stations that are located throughout Baltimore City are often beacons in the night for community and individuals looking for grocery items: milk, eggs and other necessary supplies,” she said.

Cailey Locklair, president of the Maryland Retailers Association, said Dorsey’s reasoning is a “little backward.” Some grocery stores want to offer gas pumps in their parking lots, so such a law actually could discourage them from coming to a community.

But that’s not the only problem with the bill, Locklair said: “There isn’t a comprehensive mass transit system in the city. A conversation has to start. People have vehicles that require gas.”

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Dorsey said the world is “hurtling toward climate disaster” and he stands ready persuade the council to support his proposals. He said he has a coalition backing the legislative package, including the Baltimore Green Party, the City Union of Baltimore and Clean Water Action.

Owen Silverman Andrews, co-chair of the Baltimore Green Party and primary author of the “Maryland Green New Deal,” said the city should not be the site of “rest-area sized gas stations that pollute our communities and continue our dependence on destructive fossil fuels.”

“This is about racial, economic and environmental justice and the time to act is now,” he said. “If Baltimore is to turn from the current path of deepening climate apartheid toward a safer, more just future, we need sweeping changes to energy, land use, and transportation policy. These bills are part of that much needed pivot.”

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