A Baltimore County police car is parked outside of the Starbucks at Joppa Road and Loch Raven Boulevard, now permanently closed. Photo by Ed Gunts.

Should the now-closed “Bel Loc” Starbucks become a police substation to help reduce crime in the area?

The idea is getting attention after Starbucks confirmed that it has permanently closed its location at Joppa Road and Loch Raven Boulevard after fewer than four years of operation.

“Some have suggested that Baltimore County create a police substation there,” Baltimore County Councilman David Marks wrote on Facebook over the weekend. “We have interest from other coffee shops” too, he said.

“I think the police substation is perfect for this location,” one commenter wrote on Facebook. “Plus there wouldn’t be a lot of traffic from that use.”

“We need to get rid of the crime and the drugs,” another said.

Still, another commenter wrote “I don’t think crime was the leading cause for Starbucks” closing, pointing to area businesses that have remained successful.

The coffee shop was called the Bel-Loc Starbucks because it replaced the Bel-Loc Diner, a fixture at that intersection from 1964 to 2017.

Starbucks initially indicated it was closing the location temporarily when it halted operations there last fall, posting a sign on the door saying “We are working to reopen our store as quickly as possible.”

But a company representative confirmed this month that the closing is permanent, saying “We have to make the right decision to ensure a healthy store portfolio.”

The representative didn’t say exactly why the store was shuttered after the company had made a substantial investment to construct a freestanding building there, but area residents have said they think one factor was crime in the area.

Residents note that the intersection is surrounded by several inns and motels where shootings, drug-dealing, prostitution and other crimes have occurred.

In a Facebook post on Saturday, Marks said the decision to close the Bel-Loc Diner was made in 2017 by its owner, who had operated it for 53 years. He said the owner’s decision to lease the land to Starbucks was seen at the time as “a major step forward as we have worked to revitalize this older part of the Loch Raven Boulevard corridor.”

Baltimore County “was never going to step in and operate a diner,” he wrote.

But Starbucks still has a lease on the land, and that may now limit what can take its place, Marks said.

“Unfortunately — and this is the really frustrating issue – Starbucks has the right to block any other businesses FOR YEARS due to its leasing arrangement” with the property owner, the council member said.

Because Starbucks has other locations relatively close by, others say the company likely would want to block a competing coffee shop — even though the building is designed to house one and has a drive-through window.

A police substation would not present the same sort of retail competition, advocates say, and there is precedent for such a move. In the Remington section of Baltimore, for example, the city government took over a former F&M store at 29th Street and Remington Avenue and made it a police department outpost as a way to bring more officers to the area after that store closed.

Marks said in his Facebook post that he has advocated changes to the county’s “padlock law” for years to address high-crime businesses. The law was passed to give the county’s police chief powers to close properties that are deemed a nuisance to the general public, until problems are abated.

This month, County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. proposed legislation that would strengthen the county’s padlock law by expanding the list of circumstances constituting a public nuisance and the powers the police chief has to address a public nuisance at a private residence or businesses such as “hotels, motels, and rooming and boarding houses.”

The bill, 14-22, would give the police chief the authority to take action if two public nuisance violations have occurred at the same location within a 24-month period, as noted in police reports detailing the activities. Its language brings the county’s padlock law more in line with Baltimore City’s.

A work session related to the padlock law bill has been scheduled for Tuesday, March 29, at 4 p.m., and a vote by the council is expected on April 4. More information is available on the Baltimore County Council’s page on the county website.

Strengthening the padlock law, “along with MORE police, would make a real difference,” Marks said in his post. “The Starbucks closure was completely avoidable, and it is imperative to take tougher measures to target high-crime businesses.”

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.