Allowing churches to locate in Anne Arundel County's shopping centers and industrial parks would hurt the county's liquor stores and bars, lawmakers were told last night.
"We're not opposed to the churches, but we do fear for our licenses, and our licenses are our livelihoods," said Steve Adkins, president of the Anne Arundel County Licensed Beverage Association.
The County Council is considering a bill that would ease restrictions on where a church could locate. Councilman Thomas Redmond, a Pasadena Democrat, introduced the measure at the request of several small but growing congregations who hope to lease store fronts as temporary worship halls.
A vote was expected on the measure late last night.
Of concern to Mr. Adkins and his members is a state law that prohibits liquor stores and bars from locating within 1,000 feet of a church.
If a business has to shut down and temporarily loses its license because of fires, storm damage or other "acts of God," Mr. Adkins said he fears it may never be able to reopen if a church moves in next door.
"If we can't locate within 1,000 feet of a church, then a church shouldn't be able to locate within 1,000 feet of a liquor store or bar," said Walter Rzepkowski, who operated a Glen Burnie liquor store in the 1980s.
Richard Bittner, chairman of the Anne Arundel County Board of License Commissioners, said the owners also are worried that the presence of churches in shopping centers could prevent them from expanding or opening new businesses.
Mr. Bittner, whose panel regulates liquor licenses, said they are half-correct. He believes the state law would prohibit them from opening new businesses but would not affect the expansion of existing stores.
The Rev. Richard Middleton, pastor of the Harvest Assembly of God in Gambrills, said his 4 1/2 -year-old congregation currently meets at a recreation center and needs larger, more permanent quarters.
However, he said, the congregation is not yet large enough to be able to afford to purchase property in a residential area.
The solution? Leasing space in a shopping center, he said.
"It's a step we need to take to achieve the goal of building," Mr. Middleton said.
Mr. Middleton said he would have no qualms about locating his congregation next to a bar.
"We'll pursue whatever direction God takes us," he said.