Balto. Co. may cancel 16 liquor licenses Move a result of new law targeting unused permits for businesses that closed

March 27, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County is preparing to eliminate as many as 16 liquor licenses still held by bars, restaurants and liquor stores that have gone out of business, under a new, tighter state law regulating unused licenses.

They include two valuable York Road licenses controlled by Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos and preserved for years, and a license of questionable worth for a defunct Dundalk package goods store that closed last year.

"This will clean up all these licenses in Baltimore County that were floating around," said Joe Sliwka, president of the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association and licensee of the Barn restaurant in the 9500 block Harford Road.

Although the licenses in question are a small percentage of the county's 650 liquor licenses, "in the long run, it will make sure everyone is playing under the same rules," he said.

Under the law, which went into effect Oct. 1, any county liquor license unused for 180 days after the law's effective date becomes null and void. The county liquor board has imposed a deadline of the close of business Monday to accept applications for the one-time hardship extension allowed in the law.

Although the old law said licenses unused for 180 days were invalid, the board often interpreted gray areas in the statute to extend licenses, sometimes provoking long court disputes and accusations of unfair treatment.

So far, owners of seven licenses on the county's list of unused licenses -- including the two controlled by Angelos -- have requested hardship extensions. If the board agrees that an "undue hardship" would result from a license's expiration, it can authorize one 180-day extension.

That would mean, for example, that the Angelos-controlled license attached to a vacant lot at York and West roads south of Interstate 695, would have to be used, transferred or allowed to expire this year.

That license was preserved for years by the liquor board in the name of economic development because a large hotel, retail and office complex was planned there but not built. Another Angelos license, for the former Shane's restaurant in Timonium, has also been preserved for at least five years, again to aid economic development.

Despite those extensions, the board ruled three years ago that another Towson license unused for 186 days was invalid and could not be used by a national pizza chain trying to locate on York Road in Towson, prompting angry accusations and court appeals.

Julius W. Lichter, Angelos' attorney, said the Orioles owner's licenses deserve and need one more hardship extension.

The York and West roads site, he said, "is an important location. Massive financial investment has been put into that project already." None of the plans has come to fruition, however, and the site is merely a partially wooded, weed-strewn 5 acres.

At the Timonium location in the 1900 block York Road, a shopping center is under construction. It would be a hardship to void the liquor license at that site, where it is needed for a 4,000-square-foot restaurant that is being built, Lichter argues.

Hearings on extension requests likely will come in May.

Behind the maneuvering is the politically influenced patchwork of state laws that controls the county's retail liquor industry.

Generally, county government and national restaurant chains press for more licenses for their restaurant parks and upscale establishments. But local license holders, fearing the competition, work through their state legislators to limit the number of licenses.

As a result, few new licenses are available because they are limited by population growth, while an abundance of licenses in the economically depressed eastern county cannot be moved elsewhere.

A license in Towson, for example, may be worth up to $130,000 on the open market, while one in Dundalk or Middle River may be worth virtually nothing.

Pub Date: 3/27/97

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