New liquor licenses for Towson in compromise

Officials, beverage group near agreement on plan

March 12, 2003|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

After weeks of negotiations, Baltimore County officials and liquor industry representatives neared a compromise last night on a plan to allow three new liquor licenses in Towson, a move that proponents contend will provide a key tool for revitalization efforts in the county seat.

The details of the compromise were still being worked out last night.

But the plan will likely allow one new restaurant license in Towson's business core; another restaurant license in Towson Commons, the mixed-use development that includes movie theaters; and a service bar license for another location in the area. A service bar license allows patrons to order drinks at their tables but not at a bar.

Representatives of the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association were negotiating other details last night, including minimum investment requirements, seating capacity and sunset provisions.

Sen. James Brochin, a Towson Democrat who sponsored the bill, originally sought to allow the transfer of six licenses from other parts of the county to his district, but he said last night that the compromise is a victory.

He and others have complained that the county's decades-old system of population quotas governing licenses has stifled economic development in areas such as Towson, White Marsh and Owings Mills, while allowing scores of excess taverns and bars to operate on the county's east side.

County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall-Towson Democrat who worked with Brochin on the bill, said he was pleasantly surprised by the beverage association's willingness to compromise.

"They don't usually negotiate like this, and they were very open to our idea of revitalization," Gardina said.

Baltimore County's Senate delegation will vote on the matter this morning. Members who were skeptical about Brochin's bill at a hearing last month expressed willingness to vote for the compromise bill, so long as the licensed beverage association supported the measure.

A hearing on the bill is scheduled this afternoon in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. On local matters such as this, both the committee and the full Senate typically follow the lead of the county delegation.

The break in negotiations occurred one day after Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s two appointees took their seats on the county's three-member liquor board, the panel that is responsible for establishing population quotas that limit the issuance of licenses to one for every 2,500 people in an election district.

Smith named Thomas Minkin, a principal in the law firm of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, and Barbara "Bebe" Kernan, a fixture in his campaign and the director of corporate and public affairs for RESI, the consulting arm of Towson University, as full members of the board.

He also named Kenneth "Casey" Dansicker, an employee at Cox Auto Parts and a former manager of prizefighters, as an alternate.

The board's third member, chairman Philip R. Leyhe Jr., and alternate Victoria Rosellini will remain.

Business groups and developers have fought for years to change the county's limitation on licenses, claiming it is a hindrance to economic development.

But the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association, historically one of the most successful lobbying groups in the state, worked against Brochin's initial bill and met with Smith to lobby against wholesale changes to the system.

They argue that changes would hurt existing business owners, many of whom spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for their licenses.

Some Towson business leaders looked on Smith's appointments as a sign that more change is on the way. But Smith's chief of staff, Gregory Pecoraro, said neither side should read anything into them.

"The liquor board obviously is a place you've got to have people with a lot of integrity and people with whom the county executive is going to have confidence to fairly administer the liquor laws in the county," Pecoraro said.

"I certainly don't think he's trying to send anybody a message in terms of the discussion being held in Annapolis."

Smith's appointees, the first new members on the board in nearly a decade, said they are familiar with the debate and have open minds.

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