Clyde's agrees to comply with anti-smoking law

April 16, 1997|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

Clyde's, the most prominent opponent of Howard County's strict anti-smoking law, has officially agreed to make more than $150,000 in renovations to comply with the law in the final settlment of a lawsuit against the popular Columbia restaurant.

The settlement has been in the works for a few weeks, but its signing yesterday marks the end of a long struggle for anti-smoking activists and county officials determined to enforce law hated by many restaurant owners and managers.

"It's a shame that it even had to get to the point where we had to do a lawsuit," said William A. Thies Jr., the county administrator charged with enforcing the law. "But it did what it was supposed to do, which is bring them into compliance."

Howard County filed a 10-count civil lawsuit against Clyde's in late February -- nearly two months after the law required the restaurant either eliminate smoking or confine it to a sealed off bar room.

At the time, the restaurant had done neither. Months earlier, Clyde's had hired a lobbyist to try to overturn the law, arguing that it would hurt business by driving smoking customers to other counties.

Soon after the lawsuit, there were signs that Clyde's stance was changing -- it temporarily banned smoking, jump-started plans to spend $150,000 to close off its bar as a smoking room, and began negotiations to end the lawsuit.

Yesterday's settlement ended the lawsuit and put an end to the county's effort to collect up to $7,500 in civil penalties for 30 alleged violations detailed in the lawsuit.

Clyde's manager Tony Moynaugh -- a co-defendant in the lawsuit -- declined to comment. Officials from Clyde's corporate office in Georgetown did not return phone messages.

But John Laytham, an executive vice president, was quoted in a statement released by county officials as saying, "It was never our intention to violate the law. Our goal is to properly serve all of our clientele, and we will continue to do so in compliance with the law."

The anti-smoking law -- Maryland's strictest and one of the toughest on the East Coast -- prohibits smoking in most of Howard's 300 restaurants. The 90 restaurant with liquor licenses can still allow smoking in separately ventilated bar rooms -- but county officials estimate that only between 10 and 20 do so.

County officials said the Clyde's settlement frees them to target other violators with tickets of up to $250.

Anti-smoking activists praised yesterday's deal but said they were disappointed that Clyde's intends to build a smoking room rather than make its smoking ban permanent.

"I'm happy," said Gary Jensen of the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Howard County, "but I would like to see them go smoke free."

Pub Date: 4/16/97

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