Liquor board OKs license for crab house

Restaurant planned for Tenthouse Creek

April 10, 2003|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Despite loud opposition from residents of Galesville, the Anne Arundel County liquor board approved a liquor license yesterday for a businessman who wants to open a 200-seat crab house and bar on pristine Tenthouse Creek in the scenic watermen's community.

The liquor board - members of which sat through more than two hours of testimony Tuesday night and made their final decision well after midnight - granted William R. Woodfield Jr. a liquor license that will prohibit off-site sales and limit operating hours.

Woodfield, a longtime Galesville resident, requested a liquor license that would have allowed on- and off-site alcohol sales. Although Woodfield applied for the license, the crab house will be owned and operated by Nick Bassford, a Davidsonville resident who bought the property last summer from Woodfield, whose family has operated a seafood and ice plant at the site since 1917.

Community concerns over the proposed crab house - and the prospect of raucous, alcohol-fueled parties in what is largely a residential area - forced liquor board commissioners to modify the Woodfield application, which was approved in a 2-0 vote after one commissioner recused herself amid allegations of a potential conflict of interest.

Liquor board Chairman Richard C. Bittner said yesterday afternoon that he was careful to consider all sides of the issue before approving the Woodfield liquor license, which brings the total number of licenses in the West River village to four. He said that since the crab house would cater to visitors from surrounding areas as well as residents, the applicant established that there was public need for a fourth license.

"The testimony and the presentation dealt not only with Galesville but the general area," said Bittner, referring to a lengthy presentation by Woodfield's attorney, Charles F. Delavan. "And that particular location, given its unique nature, is more of a destination location than a neighborhood restaurant."

Still, the liquor board set a list of restrictions to appease neighbors who said they worried that quiet summer days could be interrupted by throngs of noisy tourists.

Woodfield will be required to close by midnight and turn off the music system on the outdoor deck by 9 p.m. Also, he will be allowed to serve alcoholic beverages only to guests who also are ordering food, aside from a small, 15-seat bar, Bittner said.

All crab house employees will be required to take alcohol awareness classes, and parking will be limited to the restaurant site only. Any changes Woodfield makes to the restaurant's floor, service or entertainment plan must be approved by the liquor board.

"We tried to harmonize neighborhood concerns and reality," Bittner said, referring to the property's zoning category, which would have allowed a larger restaurant with longer business hours.

Still, Galesville residents yesterday said they felt somewhat defeated.

"If this board acted properly, we have witnessed a dramatic failing of our basic democratic values," said Peter Jones, a Galesville resident who attended the meeting Tuesday at the Arundel Center in Annapolis.

Peter Bell, vice president of the West River Improvement Association, said yesterday afternoon that he disagrees with the board's definition of public need. "The main impact of this is on the idyllic village of Galesville, not the general public of Anne Arundel County," he said.

Bell said that residents have yet to decide whether to file an appeal with the liquor board. Although they have 30 days to do so, such a step could result in a costly legal battle. Bell added that residents would have to prove that the process was flawed, and that he wasn't sure they could do so.

Audience members were startled Tuesday when board commissioner Sara H. Arthur recused herself after evidence was presented by a Galesville resident that some liquor license opponents said proved she had a conflict of interest.

At the start of the meeting, Arthur and board commissioner Melvin Hyatt had publicly refuted concerns that they had personal conflicts.

Hyatt's nephew, Alan Hyatt, an Annapolis attorney, has done legal work for Bassford. Melvin Hyatt also is a close friend of Bassford's.

Arthur, who is an associate in Alan Hyatt's law firm, said yesterday that she wasn't convinced that the evidence presented - Woodfield's original liquor license application, a form letter apparently drawn up by Alan Hyatt or someone who works for him - represented a conflict.

To be safe, Arthur said she opted not to participate in final deliberations. "For a number of reasons, I didn't feel comfortable," she said.

Alan Hyatt said that he or a member of his firm may have drafted the liquor license application letter for Bassford, and that Bassford may then have passed it on to Woodfield, who will manage the restaurant for Bassford. Alan Hyatt said he has "never dealt with Woodfield," even though he said he did form the articles of organization for Woodfield's limited liability corporation.

Alan Hyatt's firm has declined to represent liquor license applicants before the liquor board ever since Arthur was appointed a commissioner on the board about two years ago. Her term expires at the end of this month.

"There was no question in my mind that the representative for the [Woodfield] application was not going to be me," Alan Hyatt said.

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