Restaurant, bar plans have Galesville residents crabby

Waterside Arundel village fears flood of visitors

April 08, 2003|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

A plan by an Annapolis businessman to turn an old icehouse on Tenthouse Creek into a hopping waterfront restaurant and bar, with on- and off-site liquor sales, has upset the quiet Anne Arundel County community of Galesville.

Residents of this tiny watermen's community of about 360 people worry that the restaurant and bar will attract a rowdy crowd of weekend visitors who, fueled by hot crabs and cold beer, will roar around the waterfront in souped-up speedboats and trucks.

"We are trying to preserve the village and the community," said Robert J. Brant, president of the Galesville Heritage Society, echoing concerns of other residents that the new restaurant and bar will turn the town into a tourist trap. "It's disruptive to have a non-Galesvillian come in and open a business that will cater to outsiders."

The dispute has frayed nerves in the West River town, a year-round community with a 350-year history, where many still make their living from the Chesapeake Bay -- and fret about opening the door to a flood of tourists.

Questions have been raised about personal and professional connections among icehouse owner Nick Bassford, his tenant, William R. Woodfield Jr., and two members of the Anne Arundel County liquor board, which is set to review the liquor license application at a meeting today in Annapolis.

More than 100 Galesville residents are expected to attend the 6:30 p.m. meeting at the Arundel Center.

"The pulse of the community is that they do not want it," said Jeffrey P. Smith, who runs Smith Brothers barge and tugboat business next door to Woodfield Ice House.

If approved, Woodfield's license would allow him to sell liquor on- and off-site, as well as on Sundays. The license also would permit music.

Smith and others have written letters to the liquor board stating that the town has three liquor establishments and doesn't need a fourth. Residents also argue that the icehouse, at the end of a two-lane road in a residential neighborhood, is a poor location for a restaurant and bar.

Members of the West River Improvement Association recently asked Bassford to limit liquor sales to on-site only, but he refused, said association president Peter C. Oleson. Residents also asked Bassford to delay review of the liquor license application so that more locals could attend the public hearing, but Bassford would not cooperate, Oleson said.

"Our opposition is based on the fact that we think this is excessive," Oleson said.

Bassford could not be reached for comment, despite repeated calls during the past several days.

But yesterday, Woodfield said he and Bassford simply want to build a "regular crab deck." He said there would be no loud music because "I live two houses up from the plant." And he said operators plan to close the crab house at 11 p.m. and only allow off-site liquor sales to boaters.

"I don't think it will be that bad," said Woodfield, the former owner of the icehouse and a longtime Galesville resident. "Most people, when they eat crabs, they want a beer."

Bassford, who last summer stunned residents when he purchased three Galesville properties, appears eager to reopen the icehouse as a seafood restaurant. He has installed a steam boiler for crab pots and built a pier and boardwalk. The crab house also will include a retail seafood store.

Bassford, who owns two other restaurants in town that serve liquor, has said he wants to open the new restaurant in time to serve summer crowds.

Woodfield is the liquor license applicant. Neither Bassford nor Woodfield currently holds a liquor license in Anne Arundel County. The licenses at Bassford's other restaurants are held by other applicants. The maximum number of licenses allowed per applicant is two.

Brant and other residents also worry that Bassford and Woodfield will win the liquor license based on their connections. Bassford is a friend of liquor board commissioner Melvin Hyatt, who used to own and run the Dockside restaurant in Annapolis. Woodfield hired Melvin Hyatt's nephew, Alan Hyatt, an Annapolis attorney, to draw up his corporation papers. Liquor board commissioner Sara Arthur is an associate in Alan Hyatt's law firm.

"He has friends and he has connections," Brant said of Bassford, who owns a number of businesses throughout the county. "Money makes money and politics. And I'm not naive to that."

Melvin Hyatt said that he will not hide that he is Bassford's friend or that he is related to Alan Hyatt. He said that he will review the Woodfield application with an open mind.

"I'd hate to think that someone would think that I would operate like that," he said, referring to suggestions by some in the community of potential conflict of interest.

Alan Hyatt said that while he worked with Woodfield to draw up the corporation papers, he is not currently retained by Woodfield or Bassford. He said his law firm, Hyatt, Peters & Weber, has declined to represent liquor license applications before the board ever since Arthur was appointed a board commissioner about two years ago.

Arthur said she would review the applicant's file and decide whether it is appropriate to recuse herself. "I want everything to be above board," she said.

Liquor board Chairman Richard C. Bittner said that he will leave it to Melvin Hyatt and Arthur to disclose their connections with Bassford and Woodfield. But he said that questions regarding such personal and professional connections are "good ones" and that such ties "could be a concern."

Bittner promised a fair hearing. "I don't prejudge a case," he said.

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