Congregants of a local church held a protest for the second time Dec. 6, for what they call their landlord’s deliberate violation of state law.

Pastor Mario Ogans and others from God’s Kingdom Builders Church of Jesus Christ on Bel Air Road are outraged because their landlord authorized a liquor shop to open in a storefront directly below them.

They say Maryland law prohibits liquor stores within 300 feet of churches.

Steven Fogleman, chairman of the city Liquor Board, told reporters after the church’s first protest Dec. 3 that Garden Liquors was approved for the move two-weeks before the church.

Pastor Ogans contends he has documents proving his church was the first legal tenant. God’s Kingdom signed their lease in June 2009 and were scheduled to move in October 2009, he said, but slow construction didn’t allow physical relocation until Feb. 2010.

The liquor store received approval for their liquor license Jan. 14 2010.

In an interview with the AFRO, Fogleman said the landlord—Luis Bnrich—did not mention the church when his board approved the liquor store in January.

“We didn’t receive any testimony, letters…there was no evidence that a church was there and the landlord didn’t say there was.”

After complaints from church members last summer, the board launched an investigation and discovered the church.

But in a letter to the Liquor Board dated June 25, Fogleman says, Bnrich wrote that the church’s tenancy began Feb 1, 2010 and their move was not approved by the city until summer 2010. He also called the church temporary occupants.

The landlord told the AFRO he doesn’t remember which tenant moved in first, but says the church has always been aware of the new liquor store, which officially opened Dec. 5.

“Both participants knew the other was there, as well as the liquor board,” Bnrich said.

“As the landlord, I didn’t do anything illegal or immoral but I’m saddened the church is unhappy.”

He said some churches incorporate wine into their service, so he didn’t know God’s Kingdom would oppose the new neighbors.

He added, “And landlords don’t necessarily discuss new tenants with old tenants.”

The church filed an appeal with the Zoning Board, but board Executive Director David Tanner says the issue must be regulated by the liquor board.

“I sympathize with the worshippers,” Fogleman said. “This is not the best set up.”

The liquor store renews their license next April, he said, but until then, the tenants might have to coexist.

“The reason I’m so against it is because the church has over 100 youth that come to our service,” Pastor Ogens said. Many members are leaving an “alcoholic past”, he said, and will have to fight temptation whenever they visit the church. “Our doors are six inches apart,” he said, noting that people often enter the church mistaking it for the entrance of the liquor store.

Paul, a manager at Garden Liquors, says the church has not spoken to him, but he is aware of the protests.

“We did move here first,” he said simply. All other questions, he said, should be directed to his attorney. Calls to the lawyer were not immediately returned by AFRO deadline.

The protests have generated attention from nearby residents. Several have spoken to the liquor and zoning boards and are signing petitions to have the liquor store’s license revoked. Other churches are also getting involved and protesting liquor stores in their area, Pastor Ogens said.

“This is just the beginning,” he said. “People don’t want this in their community.” He and other congregants protested a third time when the AFRO went to press Dec. 8.

For now, the church will even have to contend with the liquor store on Sundays. As noted on a document posted on the Garden Liquors front entrance, the store is authorized to remain open for nine hours every Sunday until New Years Day.

 

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO