Pizza Hut Case Spurs Discussion Of Liquor License Law

Attorneys Say 'Arcane' Rule Deters Restaurants From Locating Here

April 24, 1991|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

An outdated county liquor law could be deterring some national restaurant chains from moving to Carroll, two attorneys said Tuesday.

Westminster attorney William B. Dulany said several national restaurant companies have told him they were interested in locating here but were stymied by liquor laws. He would not name the restaurants.

Carroll liquor law prohibits "chain stores" from obtaining liquorlicenses.

"The law is arcane," said County Attorney Charles W. "Chuck" Thompson Jr.

Liquor board chairman Earle H. Brewer said he does not oppose changing the law, which would have to be done through the state legislature.

The county has asked a Carroll Circuit judge to interpret the law as it applies to six Pizza Hut restaurants, three of which serve alcohol. The county wants the court to declare thethree licenses invalid.

A hearing is scheduled for May 6.

An attorney for Pizza Hut of Maryland, franchiser for the six restaurants, said Pizza Hut is a restaurant and not a chain store.

"Pizza Hutclearly falls into the definition of a restaurant and not a store," said Karen B. Miller of Dulany, Scott, Rasinsky and Leahy of Westminster.

An example of a chain store would be a 7-Eleven convenience store, she said.

The law does not include "a special definition of chain store," court papers say. The law also says liquor licenses maynot be issued to supermarkets or "discount houses."

Liquor board members said that because of the pending legal action, they could notcomment on why the three licenses were granted to Pizza Hut.

The law prohibiting chain stores from selling alcohol was passed by the General Assembly in 1962.

Thompson and liquor board members said they did not know the legislature's intent.

"Apparently, they perceived an evil," Thompson said.

The county liquor board granted a license to the Pizza Hut in the 140 Village Shopping Center in Westminster in 1972 and one to the Pizza Hut on Liberty Road in Eldersburg in 1976.

The board denied a license for the Pizza Hut in Mount Airy, but the Circuit Court overturned the decision and granted the licensein 1986, Miller said.

Liquor board administrator J. Ronald Lau said, "Because it's happened in the past doesn't make it right."

Some counties' laws limit the number of liquor licenses one restaurant company can have, said Assistant County Attorney Laurell E. Taylor.

In 1989, the Hampstead Pizza Hut applied for a liquor license. It was at this time that the county decided to ask the court to interpret the law, Thompson said.

The liquor board is waiting to make a decision on the Hampstead application pending the outcome of the county'slawsuit, court papers say.

Pizza Hut restaurants also are locatedin Finksburg and Taneytown. They have not applied for liquor licenses.

Pizza Hut of Maryland, based in Columbia, Howard County, and its franchisees have filed a motion to dismiss the county's legal action.

Pizza Hut officers were out of town at a convention and could not be reached.

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