Westminster considers easing its alcohol-use law

Arts council wants to offer wine at city-owned site

February 04, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Organizations that lease buildings from the city of Westminster would be able to serve alcohol at some events under legislation being considered by the city's Common Council.

The legislation is designed to allow the Carroll County Arts Council, which recently moved from a privately owned building to the city-owned Carroll Theatre, to continue serving wine at gallery openings. But the council has put off deciding on the matter, in part because of questions raised by one member of the panel.

"I don't think it's a responsible approach to controlling alcohol abuse," said Councilwoman Suzanne P. Albert, who said at last week's council meeting that she was against the idea.

The council decided at its Jan. 27 meeting to defer a decision until it meets Monday to allow new Councilman Robert P. Wack to familiarize himself with the issue and to allow other council members to discuss the proposal.

The push to allow liquor to be served under some circumstances came from former Councilman L. Gregory Pecoraro, who served as the city's liaison to the Carroll County Arts Council. He introduced the proposal at his last council meeting Jan. 13, saying that the arts council would like to serve alcohol at some of its receptions.

The arts council has a 30-year lease with the city on the restored theater, which the city bought in 2000. City law prohibits the consumption of alcohol on city property.

Pecoraro talked about an opportunity that slipped by because of these restrictions. He said that years ago the city was approached by the Carroll County Historical Society about holding an event at the city-owned Longwell Municipal Center. The society wanted to serve alcohol but could not.

"We missed an opportunity to showcase the Longwell Center," Pecoraro said. "They had the event elsewhere."

The proposal would still prohibit alcohol from being consumed in buildings occupied by city government, such as City Hall and the Longwell Municipal Center, which houses the city's parks and recreation department. The ordinance would not affect the prohibition of alcohol at city-owned parks and open spaces.

At the meeting last week, Albert said she was reluctant to support the change in the law because the city would be failing to show "the necessary commitment" to discouraging the use of alcohol.

"I certainly respect that point," said Sandy Oxx, executive director of the arts council, "but we are a private organization, not a city-run or county-run organization. We have always been in a privately owned building and on occasion we've served wine at gallery openings, and at the Festival of Wreaths."

The arts council plans to throw a grand opening celebration in April at the theater.

Oxx also said that the current law could impair her organization's ability to thrive.

"Renting this facility to outside groups is one of the keys to our financial solvency," she said. "To say you cannot have alcohol may limit some potential rentals. The other theaters we visited, such as the Weinberg Center in Frederick, [have] a full bar. Not that we want to be the Weinberg or have a full bar, but we want to have the option open to us."

Because the arts council recognizes that it has a business relationship with the city, the organization would be responsible about using the option to serve alcohol, Oxx said.

"We have no intention making alcohol part of our concessions but for special events - and not all special events," she said.

That's not enough for Albert.

"I'm cognizant of their position, and I know other arts places, it's a glove in hand - they have art and people who enjoy wine as their scene," Albert said. "In spite of that, I feel rather strongly about the position we need to take: to control the abuse of alcohol.

"I have mixed emotions. I certainly don't want to deter the success of the arts council, but I have to stay focused on our responsibility."

The theater building is likely to be the only site affected under the proposal. The city leases the old West End School to the Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland. That organization runs its West End Place office out of the building, which provides activities and supervision of the elderly.

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