Eminent Domain of #1 Liquor in Question

#1 Liquor at University View

With the city council election only a few months away, and an increasing number of residents are voicing their opposition, the council may soon vote on a motion that will permanently put a stop to the negotiation to purchase #1 Liquor: College Park’s most infamous homestead holdout. The small parcel (8200 Baltimore Avenue) is sandwiched in between University View and the Varsity high rises, has been a point of contention for the council for years. In December 2009, the City Council authorized the City Manager to negotiate the acquisition of the property and turn it into a “pocket park” for general public use. The purchase would be funded by College Park’s allocation of the state’s localside Program Open Space (POS) money.

City council members who supported the motion in 2009, argued that the property was “an eyesore.” They also said that the purchase would be an opportunity “to improve that portion of Route 1 corridor“. The 2009 resolution allows the City to pursue the acquisition using all “actions necessary to proceed with condemnation if negotiations are not successful.” This meant eminent domain, or compulsory purchase by the government against the will of the landowner, was on the table if the store owner refused to make a deal.

However, opposition to the eminent domain option from the residents in recent days have forced some council members to soften or even reverse their support. One of these council members is Patrick Wojahn (Dist 1), who has come under fierce scrutiny for his original support for eminent domain from a small but vocal group of residents in his north College Park constituency.

I was on the fence initially about eminent domain, and after hearing what residents have had to say, I oppose it.” -wrote Mr. Wojahn in an email to his north College Park newsgroup.

However, Mr. Wojahn’s reversal on eminent domain option did not completely please the group of residents; they want the Council to stop negotiation with the #1 Liquor owner altogether.

The City should stop going after this particular business.  You [Mr. Wojahn] and Mr. Catlin keep saying the City should continue because the owner is still willing to negotiate [to sell]” – charged one resident.

I have not seen anyone on the council move to amend this item be removed” – continued the resident.

During the recent budget worksession, this topic was brought up and the City Manager (Mr. Nagro) said the only way to stop the negotiation would be for the Mayor and Council to do another vote to “unauthorize” it.

Mr. Wojahn’s counterpart in District 1, Councilmember Nagle, who has been a vocal opponent to the #1 Liquor purchase from the beginning,  has recently done just that. She has asked the city to unauthorize the City Manager from pursuing any further negotiations to obtain the property (arms-length or otherwise). The council will vote on that motion in next Tuesday’s (May 24) regular council session.

In the mean time, the debate on the property deal is intensifying. Most opponents to the idea of acquiring the property argue that “uglinesss” should never be the reason for purchasing the property.

.. if you want to get rid of it, why don’t you get rid of town hall or that vacant building that is an eyesore between Burger King and Taco Bell (on Rt. 1).” – said one long time residents.

If we are looking to make the city look good, there is nothing on US 1, in my opinion, from the IKEA corridor on down except the University of Maryland that looks attractive to anyone wanting to relocate to the city.” – continued the resident.

Council member Robert Catlin (Dist 2), who sponsored the 2009 motion disagrees. Catlin thinks location, and not the look, should be a major factor why the City should buy the property.

(The location of the property) is great because of the large population that will be living or passing through there.  It can be a place for people to buy food from the adjacent food establishments and enjoy eating outside or interact with people (like Dupont Circle). ” – said Mr. Catlin.

In addition to location, Mr. Catlin argues that  the property would make for a good bus superstop location, as it the southernmost point that southbound buses can stop to pick up passengers. He also points out that the current business owner is not the same business owner that was there when University View was built.

The current liquor store owner is free to lease space elsewhere in College Park. ” – he argued.

In response to the argument that the City will be losing precious tax dollars from a legitimate business, Mr Catlin said: “The $1,500 in revenue derived from the store is insignificant in the city’s budget, especially when considering that the redevelopment here generates hundreds of times more revenue than was generated here before redevelopment.

What could we buy [with POS money], only church property?” – asks Mr. Catlin.

Some residents want the City to spend the fund to purchase the property in the design and rehabilitation of Duvall Field project in north College Park. The City originally received $300K as part of State’s Program Open Space (POS) fund, however it could not use the money due to a related fund from a Greenbelt south core development project.

Others have a different perspective on how the purchase should be viewed,

Program Open Space is neither a highway beautification fund nor a blight reduction tool. The park idea is a farce. A fraction of an acre ‘pocket park’ on the #1 Liquor site will not meet the city’s conservation or public recreation goals, especially in light of the fact that the 5-acre North Gate Park (another POS project) is about to open just to the south.” – said the Rethink College Park editor David Daddio.

Daddio thinks the North Gate Park parcel would make an excellent location for a bus super stop for the emerging North Gate District.

Indeed POS funds could be used for the purchase; but let’s not pretend that there is a park deficit in the city.” – said Daddio.

Though it is unclear at this moment how the Council will vote next week, intense lobbying by the opposing residents may sway the minds of the council members. If there is a tie, Mayor Fellows will cast his vote to break the tie. Mr. Fellows who supported the original 2009 motion is also undecided.

We have not established what that cost to the City might be.  I do understand the concerns of a significant number of residents, and they are a factor in my consideration. ” – said Mr. Fellows.

In the mean time, opponents to the purchase plan are hoping that the upcoming November election could swing the Council decision next week.

7 thoughts on “Eminent Domain of #1 Liquor in Question”

  1. The truly shameful thing here is that #1 is still there at all. The University View developer should have been obliged to buy the property before breaking ground on their first building. Now, rather than a single property entrance at a signalized intersection, we had several years of people making dangerous left-turns out of the View and across traffic, to the point where that section of Rt 1 has had to have major work done to make it safe.

    Why wasn’t the developer required to obtain all of the Rt. 1 frontage property for their development? For that matter, why wasn’t the developer of Mazza Grandmark required to do the same thing? Now we’ve got the pretty new brick buildings that the City and County insisted on, hidden behind ugly old block buildings that show no sign of going away.

  2. Every time I pass that location, I chuckle to myself. It does look rather ridiculous to have those beautiful University buildings and soon with their accompanying ground floor retail centered around such a ghetto looking liquor store. It’s not like the neighborhood is going to suffer if it were relocated, they could relocate at one of the MANY vacant properties along route 1. I am not even understanding why there is a debate on this. WHY ARE PEOPLE SO HARD PRESSED TO SAVE A LIQUOR STORE when there are countless other liquor stores nearby? Yes, lets support college binge drinking and save the college students from actually having to study instead of picking up some brews from the liquor store! SHAMEFUL!

  3. I understand completely the opposition to using eminent domain – I don’t think a “pocket park” is a legitimate use of the government’s power to take property, that power is better reserved for things like roads. However, I also think that the developers of the properties on either side should join with the city in negotiating an amicable purchase of the #1 property from the owner. There is plenty of unused retail space in the adjacent buildings, why doesn’t the city agree to support transfer of the liquor license to an adjacent location and an adjacent property offer a low-cost, long-term lease?

  4. You people are hypocrites. Just wait until “eminent domain” is used to put a highway running through your front yard or anything else they want.

    1) Good for the liquor store for standing their ground – and I don’t even drink liquor!!

    2) The developers are nothing but greedy leaches, supported by corrupt College Park council members…who will ultimately have to prove their innocence when the federal public corruption investigations come to light…

  5. Just came across this article while surfing the web. It is rather amusing to ride down RT 1 and see this little run down liquor store sitting in the front yard of this massive new high rise building. Suspicion looms because what developer would build such a building and not acquire this property. This is development on crack.

  6. The only thing on crack is the College Park City Council. No wonder half the slots ran uncontested this year. There is a reason people don’t want to be College Park City Council members…

Comments are closed.