Restaurant owners in Ellicott City's historic district would prefer that new bars and restaurants be kept out of the area until the town's longstanding parking problems are abated.
Last night, the Howard County Council, which acts as the Liquor Board, was considering requests for liquor licenses from two restaurants planning to open in the district this year.
"I always thought that if someone wanted to start up a business, they have that free right," said Republican Councilman Charles C. Feaga of west county. "But I do have a concern about parking in this situation."
By late last night, the board had not made a decision on whether to grant the licenses to the Milltown Tavern on Old Columbia Pike and to the Ellicott Mills Brewing Co. microbrewery and restaurant on Main Street.
At issue is how the two restaurants -- both expected to operate 15 hours a day and together have more than 70 employees and a combined capacity of 216 -- will affect the district's few public parking lots.
Owners of six of the nine restaurants operating in the historic district are concerned that the new businesses will exacerbate parking problems.
But at last night's hearing, Peter G. Ruff, Milltown's owner, said the business will use no more than 30 parking spaces at any given time, eight of which are provided on the premises.
Martin Virga, managing member and brew master of the Ellicott Mills Brewing Co., said he has developed a policy that will require his 50 or so employees to park in lots farthest from the district's center -- reserving the prime spots for patrons.
The flap comes just before a new parking plan -- which has been in the development stages for two years -- is to go into effect this month in the district.
The plan features parking meters, enforcement of tow-away zones and a private firm to ticket motorists who disobey the rules, said Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning.
"It has been an ongoing priority to get Ellicott City's parking problem squirreled away," said Steve Hargest, owner of Side Streets restaurant on Tiber Alley. "But no matter how it's regulated, there are but so many parking spaces."
But operating restaurant owners say the intent of the plan, which is primarily designed to discourage long-term parking on Main Street to increase turnover, will be defeated when the two planned restaurants open.
In fact, the restaurant coalition would like to see any type of business other than a competitor open in the district.
"There are nine [restaurants] with 1,400 seats in the historic district, and we're all fighting for parking," said George Goeller, owner of the Phoenix Emporium restaurant on Main Street.
"It's not that we don't want competition from new restaurants. We just don't want our customers fighting over parking," he said. "We can't keep inviting a lot of businesses that are going to consume a lot of parking."
But some county officials say that the desired moratorium on restaurants and bars would ultimately hurt growth in the area.
"I'm uncomfortable in linking the expansion of businesses in Ellicott City with the parking problem," said McLaughlin of the county planning department.
"Parking in Ellicott City will never be perfect," she said. "It's odd that the coalition is singling these two restaurants out. It doesn't seem quite right."
The fighting among district business owners did not escape Liquor Board members.
"What troubles me is we have a vibrant business community and I'm seeing two factions going against each other," said Republican Councilman Dennis R. Schrader.
Pub Date: 7/10/96