No more crabs and soda pop Harford County: Barnacle Bill's tale a case of government working as it should.

January 04, 1996

WHEN A LITTLE Harford County eatery begins selling beer and wine with meals tonight, no children will be placed in harm's way nor will civilization as we know it come to a halt.

One might have concluded such an outcome, based on the distress voiced by some Harford denizens over a proposal by perhaps the best little fishhouse in Pylesville, Barnacle Bill's Seafood, to gain a liquor license. Non-North Harford residents might have trouble finding Bill's, or even Pylesville, but the license application became a hot topic because it required a waiver of a state law for the county that forbids liquor sales within 1,000 feet of a school or church. Barnacle Bill's sits 500 feet from North Harford High.

After three years of hearings and consensus-building, restaurateur Bill Sokal finally gained approval of the liquor board last week, to take effect tonight. His license is adorned with so many addenda as to give the name "Barnacle Bill's" new meaning: no beer or wine advertising on the building, no drinks before evenings except Sundays, no liquor to go, no Keno, pool or other games. Fortunately, the restrictions don't say anything about cruelty to crabs, which Mr. Sokol sold in abundance last year, although mostly for carry-out since most Marylanders haven't warmed to the idea of washing down steamed seafood with soft drinks.

Some opponents to the waiver portrayed it as a case of a bar owner currying favor from a powerful politician, in this case Sen. William H. Amoss, to breach a law designed to safeguard minors from alcohol.

Rather, this seems to be an example of how the system should work. Local education officials supported the businessman, who has been a better neighbor to the school than some of the ventures at that location in the past. Many folks are happy to see a business broaden service to their rural community. And the 1,000-foot barrier is hardly sacrosanct; in Harford's incorporated towns, the school-church limit is only 300 feet. This simple change in a distant tip of the state is emblematic of what many people want to see in government, whether they're in accord or not with the change sweeping Washington and Annapolis; that is, public institutions flexible enough to accommodate business without sacrificing the good of the community.

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