A group in Poplar Springs appealing liquor permit OK

Country Kettle Cafe owner describes the opposition as `unfair'

April 05, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Amy R. Crooks figured that customers of her new restaurant in western Howard County might want beer or a glass of wine with their meals, so she asked for a liquor license.

A group of nearby residents - whose community of Poplar Springs surrounds the restaurant - hate the idea. They're appealing a decision by the Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board to grant the license, arguing that liquor shouldn't be sold in the neighborhood.

Crooks' Country Kettle Cafe sits on Route 144, near houses and a handful of businesses. Residents say it is difficult to get out of the restaurant's parking lot safely because it is at the crest of a hill, and oncoming vehicles on the busy road cannot be seen until they are nearby.

"There's enough problems as it is," said Rob Myers, one of several dozen residents who attended a February hearing to voice their opposition to Crooks' plan. "It seems like adding one more isn't a great idea."

Crooks, who lives in the Carroll County section of Mount Airy and has worked as a chef for 18 years, said she didn't expect opposition. She thought the Country Kettle Cafe - which opened in February - would be welcomed because it is the only restaurant in the area.

Traffic issues are out of her control, she said. Her attorney, Thomas Meachum, argues that no evidence exists to show that the location is hazardous.

"I did what a restaurant is supposed to do: Put out a menu, and ask for a beer-and-wine license," Crooks said. "If they gave me a chance, and I messed up, they could take it back to the board. Not to give me a chance is unfair."

Some Poplar Springs residents came to a February hearing to support her application. But neighbors who oppose it say they have more complaints besides traffic problems.

Stephen Swanhart, who moved to Poplar Springs nine years ago and is leading the opposition, is upset that Crooks would be permitted to sell alcohol after 10 p.m. in a residential community. Unless restrictions are placed on it, a county liquor license allows restaurateurs to serve drinks until 2 a.m.

Crooks said she does not plan to stay open that late, and she pointed out that alcohol is sold in the area. Lisbon Liquors stands on Route 144 about two miles from her cafe.

Swanhart is also displeased that Crooks was charged twice with driving while intoxicated, the more recent time in 1990.

He thinks county officials should take that into consideration. Crooks disagrees, saying she has not been in trouble since then.

"I was foolish, and I was young," she said, adding that she has been married for 10 years and has two children.

Both sides agree that the situation is complicated by matters that don't involve her. The building Crooks is leasing has a bad history with alcohol - none of the eating places at the location has had a liquor license since 1991, when a teen-ager seen drinking at the then-Poplar Springs Inn died in a car accident the same day.

Joy Bloom, who bought the building after the Poplar Springs Inn closed, requested a liquor license for the Daisy Deli in 1998 but was turned down by the Board of License Commissioners.

"The operation of the business, if the license were granted, will unduly disturb the peace of the residents of the neighborhood," the board wrote.

Swanhart does not see why the Country Kettle Cafe's request is any different. "Essentially, it's exactly what they voted against before," he said.

Different people ruled on the cafe case, because liquor license applications are being handled in a new way. Instead of being heard by the Board of License Commissioners, which is composed of County Council members, applications go to the Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board.

The hearing board wrote in its decision and order March 15 that granting a liquor license to the Country Kettle Cafe "will not unduly disturb the peace and safety of the residents of the neighborhood, as it is the stated intention of the [applicant] to operate a family-oriented restaurant."

An appeal by residents was sent last week to the license commissioners, who will decide whether to hear the case.

Whatever its problems, the Country Kettle Cafe does not look like its predecessors - which include at least one biker bar.

Decorated in the style of a country house, the 40-seat dining room has framed photographs of Crooks' family, antiques attached to the walls, and flower pots hanging from pulleys.

Behind the dining room is an informal eating area. Residents call it a bar; Crooks calls it a cafe. It seats eight on bar stools around a counter.

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