Liquor law changes sought

Panel wants to offer multiple licenses to some establishments

June 23, 1999|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

State legislators are scrutinizing liquor laws and talking with business leaders hoping to find a way to hand out multiple licenses to some establishments in Anne Arundel County.

Currently, a restaurant with a license to serve drinks in, for example, Parole, may not get a license to sell alcohol at a second restaurant in the northern part of the county around Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

A new study group, headed by Dels. John Leopold and Theodore Sophocleus, could help restaurant chains that want to do business at several places in the county and spur development in areas such as near the airport eager for new businesses.

The 13-member committee wants to reach a consensus so that county delegates can introduce legislation to amend the liquor laws in January. Other bills introduced in recent years, such as one Leopold crafted to extend liquor law privileges in town centers, have failed because they did not address small business owners or other parts of the county in need of similar measures.

Owners of small businesses fear the competition from big chains that changes in the liquor law could mean.

"There's only so many food dollars available on any given night," said Garry Anderson, owner of Garry's Grill restaurants in Annapolis and Severna Park. "If you open the floodgates to corporate America, it'll put a lot of small guys out of business."

Most of the chains that serve drinks, such as Outback Steakhouse and TGI Friday's, have crowded in and around Annapolis, the county's population center and key tourist attraction. The only restaurants with two liquor licenses in Anne Arundel have one of their establishments in Annapolis, where there is a separate liquor board.

With BWI growing to serve 15 million customers last year, the business district around the airport -- filled with technology industries and cargo warehouses -- has supported a boom in hotel construction, many of them extended-stay business suites.

Visitors have few choices for meals, mainly hotel restaurants and fast food.

Neil Shpritz, executive director of the BWI Business Partnership, said the restrictive liquor laws have stalled the development of a restaurant park at Airport Square.

"Restaurants have said `we'd like to come, but we can't because of the laws,' " Shpritz said. "There are a lot of people who want a drink with their dinner."

Complaints from business owners at BWI and nearby north county residents spurred Leopold to call for a Liquor License Study Group.

Pam Beidle, the County Council member whose district includes BWI, said the liquor license problem was difficult to untangle because small businessmen were right to worry about increased competition that a more liberal policy would bring. But at the same time, she said, residents of the northern part of the county complain about being deprived. They, too, want an array of good restaurants.

"It's my own personal view that Anne Arundel County can no longer be a backwater protectionist county," Leopold said, arguing that current laws serve to protect small business owners and guard against competition.

"We've got a new mall coming in, BWI," he said. "It's counterproductive for us to deny economic development opportunities."

Yesterday, the group discussed limiting secondary licensees to certain geographical areas, such as BWI, malls and the town centers in Glen Burnie, Odenton and Parole, or limiting the number of restaurants in those areas.

They also talked about rules that would allow independent operators to buy land and build for less in the county than large corporations.

Small operators said they wanted access to the out-of-town developers who were working on local projects, so that they could have a chance to get into developments like the one around BWI. They also discussed increasing the number of tavern liquor licenses a single company could own.

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