Legislation expected to be introduced in the Annapolis city council tonight would allow brewpub owners to apply for an exemption to stay open until 2 a.m. - and could reignite a long-running dispute over bar closing times in downtown Annapolis.
Alderman Michael W. Fox, who represents Ward 7, argues that all businesses should "have the same chance at success" and that new businesses would be dissuaded from locating in Annapolis because of the current rule that sets midnight as closing time in downtown.
"Zoning is for everyone," Fox said, arguing that his legislation would benefit the city, as has downtown growth in general.
But Ward 1 Alderwoman Louise Hammond, who represents the downtown area, said she is "very, very, upset" by the plan.
"I thought we had it settled. It has been working now for a long time," she said of the midnight closing time. "It's too bad somebody wants to dredge this up."
A study of the area in the early 1990s found that residents were concerned about noise, especially because many homes are close to the bars. A compromise was reached in 1994 that allowed businesses with 2 a.m. liquor licenses to keep them, but restricted new bars to midnight closings. Buddy's Crabs and Ribs on Main Street was granted a 2 a.m. license in 1993, but the license was taken away after residents appealed the license in court and won.
Fox said an exemption for brewpubs downtown would not disrupt the community because only a small number of businesses would be able to apply for the exemption. He also said that few businesses would endure the expense and be willing to give up restaurant seats necessary to open a brewpub to gain the extra operating hours.
But Hammond sees the new zoning rules as a way for bar owners to make money - and a way around a midnight license.
"I don't understand why the city council should consider one bar owner's desire to make more money over what the community wants," she said.
Vincent Quinlan, who owns Castle Bay Irish Pub on Main Street, is taking a wait-and-see approach. He opened his bar as a brewpub four years ago.
"I'd love to see it given a fair hearing," Quinlan said of the legislation, adding that it would be "advantageous" for him to be open more hours.
Hammond had asked that the legislation be excluded from tonight's agenda. However, Fox is going ahead because he is concerned that rumors are circulating and that information about the legislation has been miscommunicated. "It's time to get this into the process and get it out into the public," he said.