Too Many Liquor Licenses? ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

February 08, 1993

Del. Charles W. "Stokes" Kolodziejski has put his finger on a sticky issue in Anne Arundel County: Liquor licenses. How many are enough?

Unlike neighboring Baltimore County, Anne Arundel does not limit the number of licenses. Applicants need only prove a need to sell alcoholic beverages, a system that has its good and bad points. On the plus side, the rule allows the board to use its own discretion in determining where and under what circumstances a license should be issued. This way, the distribution of licenses can change along with demographics -- a flexibility lacking in Baltimore County, where need has shifted from old industrial areas to new suburbs.

On the minus side, there are no guidelines for what constitutes need, opening the door for arbitrary interpretation and political wheeling and dealing. There is no evidence this has happened here, but it could under a weak board.

Mr. Kolodziejski's bill to impose a moratorium on tavern and package store licenses in District 31 is well intentioned. The area has its share of bars and such. Then again, most of these have been around for eons, and the area is growing. Considering that only two package store licenses and one restricted tavern license have been issued in Pasadena since 1986, is a moratorium really necessary? If certain stretches of Mountain Road have several bars, shouldn't the board be able to tell that there's no need for another one without an outright prohibition district-wide?

The proposed moratorium does not go far enough for the county Licensed Beverage Dealers Association, however. It complains that the board is too cavalier about issuing all types of licenses countywide, including those for clubs and restaurants. If there's a bar up the street, they ask, does a business such as Pastore's, a little Italian deli which recently was awarded a license, really need to sell alcohol, too? The flip side of that, however, is that the kind of customer who enjoys a plate of spaghetti and a glass of wine at Pastore's may never set foot in a bar. In that case, is there not a need for the extra license? Local lawmakers have never resolved these types of questions.

A moratorium on liquor licenses is a bad idea, especially in a growing county. But the liquor board can and should do a better job of defining when and where a license is needed.

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