Making Sober Decisions on Alcohol

May 17, 1994

When it comes to making or selling alcoholic beverages in Carroll, it is getting more difficult to find the middle ground. Mount Airy's Board of Zoning Appeals barely approved the conversion of a vacant firehouse into a microbrewery. And at its last meeting, members of the county liquor board didn't seem very receptive to the idea of having liquor stores open on Sundays before and after Christmas and New Year's.

The experience of Seattle entrepreneur and former Mount Airy resident A. Reid Allison, who would like to convert the town's old firehouse into a microbrewery and restaurant, is a good example of how extreme positions are dominating the public debate over alcohol.

Mr. Reid needed a special exception for his proposed brewery because Mount Airy's zoning ordinance doesn't have provisions for microbreweries. If Mr. Allison had wanted to turn the firehouse into a restaurant or a bar, the issue would never have come before the zoning board. As it turned out, the debate over the zoning request focused on the evils of drink rather than on whether or not establishing a brewery in the middle of town was an appropriate land use.

Rather than address the amount of traffic and congestion a proposed microbrewery would generate or the disruption that deliveries might cause, opponents of the project questioned the morality of making alcohol. They would have been more persuasive if their arguments had focused on how this particular brewery would contribute to alcoholism, family breakdowns, teen-age drinking and other social problems.

Some people are irresponsible drinkers, just as there are irresponsible drivers, boaters and bicyclists. The abuses by a few should not determine public policy. Mount Airy's zoning board apparently believed that the benefits of having a new business downtown outweighed the possible problems.

Carroll's liquor board should take the same approach toward the sales of liquor on Sundays before and after Christmas and New Year's. Since Howard and Frederick counties allow these sales, people seeking to buy alcohol can purchase it by driving out of the county. Continuing the current ban on Sunday sales in Carroll denies revenue to local retailers and does little to curtail alcohol consumption.

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