Council holds hearing on late-night brewpubs

Residents voice concerns over resolution to allow 2 a.m. liquor licenses

March 25, 2003|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

To some in downtown Annapolis, it was the opening salvo that is reigniting the city's infamous "bar wars."

A resolution that would amend the Ward One Sector Study to allow brewpubs downtown to apply for 2 a.m. liquor licenses drew more than two dozen people to a city council public hearing last night. The resolution's sponsor, Alderman Michael W. Fox, says the sector study amendment would be the first step toward citywide brewpub zoning.

But the heated debate that ensued last night - pitting economics against residents' concern about quality of life - was reminiscent of the battles a decade ago when residents fought the proliferation of 2 a.m. liquor licenses downtown.

In 1994, a hard-won compromise between residents and businesses in the sector study was made law, allowing businesses with late licenses to keep them but restricting new bars and restaurants to midnight closings.

Now Fox's resolution has brought the issue back to the table - even though it only would apply to restaurants that brew their own beer. Speakers last night were evenly split between opponents, who were mostly downtown residents, and supporters - many seeming to have ties to the only existing brewpub on Main Street, Castlebay Irish Pub.

"Give them a fair shake," Adam Sampson, a young downtown resident, implored for the businesses.

"A level field was created. No new 2 a.m. licenses," said Arthur Greenbaum, a downtown resident and "bar wars" veteran.

Vincent Quinlan, owner of Castlebay, and his attorney argued that a midnight closing makes it difficult for the business to succeed, especially because of the cost and space taken up by brewing equipment.

Residents argued that the "noise and disruption" that comes along with late-night liquor licenses has a detrimental effect on their quality of life and pleaded with the council not to reverse the work done a decade ago to protect it.

"Changing a long-range plan that works is just a bad idea," said Hans Froelicher, president of the Ward One Residents Association. "It has kept the intrusion that comes with late-night revelers to a level that we have learned to live with."

Before last night's meeting, Fox said he thought some of the resolution's opponents were blowing the dispute out of proportion.

He said it takes a large financial commitment to start a brewpub, and therefore it is "ludicrous" to think that the legislation would encourage many bars and restaurants downtown to pursue that designation just to get a late license. If the legislation is approved, businesses still would need to apply for an exemption to get the license, Fox added.

The proposal was dealt a blow this month when the city Planning Commission - which makes recommendations to the council - voted unanimously not to support the resolution after a public hearing March 6 in which 19 of the 20 people who testified opposed it.

In its findings, the commission said the city should revisit the entire sector study instead of making individual changes. Whitney Chellis, the commission's chairwoman, said that the closing-time issue is a "key component" of the study and modifying it could "have the effect of undermining the plan's integrity."

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