ANNAPOLIS — More taverns could be created in Carroll under a bill requested by the county liquor board, but the proposed code change would not lead to an increase in the number of drinking establishments, assures the board's administrator.
The request, which would allow restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages to downgrade to taverns, has prompted debate among Carroll's General Assembly delegation, which must vote inthe next few weeks whether to submit bills requested by county officials.
Since a request for authority to build toll roads was quickly dismissed before the session by the delegates, the only county proposalsto stir controversy among Carroll legislators or residents have beenliquor board initiatives to create a new tavern license and adjust and increase license fees.
The new license would eliminate a requirement that establishments must serve food in exchange for the privilege to sell hard liquor for on-premises consumption. In order to serve liquor, restaurants now are required to show that at least 41 percent of their receipts are derived from food sales.
Taverns, which do not have to meet food sales requirements, now are allowed to sell only beer and wine, which severely restricts business, say tavern owners.
Dropping the food sales requirement would allow small establishments more inclined to operate as bars than restaurants to stay in business, said Herbert Ferguson, of Westminster, owner of the WinfieldInn.
"Small businesses have a hard enough time doing business, let alone meeting the 41 percent requirement," he said. "With all the fast-food places now, people don't go out to eat like they used to."
Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard, said he would support the plan, noting that neighborhood taverns are becoming extinct in the area.
Ferguson and Everett Treadway, owners of the Sunset Lounge in Hampstead, said they would like to see the liquor boardtake their proposal one step further by allowing taverns to operate seven days per week rather than six. Liquor board administrator J. Ronald Lau said the board prefers to keep bars closed on Sundays.
There are now only seven taverns in Carroll. County liquor laws allow only one tavern in each of the 14 election districts, preventing a proliferation of bars.
Lau said he anticipated some existing restaurants would apply for a license change if the new tavern license is created.
"It will allow some places to operate more legally than they are now," he said.
Existing restaurants converting to a tavern license would be allowed as an exception under the law restricting thenumber of taverns, Lau said. He said he didn't expect additional licenses would be issued for new taverns because of the restrictions.
Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore, said he has concerns about the plan. He said he has received calls from constituents, who might have thought the proposal would lead to a proliferation of bars, opposing the creation of the new license.
Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, said eliminating the food sales requirement would send the wrong message.
Elliott recommended that the food sales percentage be lowered, not dropped.