Arundel liquor license approval reversed

Judge's ruling notes law restricting monopolies


November 19, 2003|By Ariel Sabar | Ariel Sabar,SUN STAFF

A plan to open a waterfront bar and restaurant in a quiet village in southern Anne Arundel County has suffered a crippling setback, now that a judge has reversed a county liquor board decision granting the business a license to serve alcohol.

Judge Paul A. Hackner of the county Circuit Court said the liquor board's April decision violated a law barring the same person from having financial ties to more than one liquor-licensed establishment.

The judge said Charles N. Bassford, who owns the Galesville restaurant, also owns at least two other restaurants with liquor licenses in the county. It did not matter, the judge said, that a business associate, William R. Woodfield Jr., had applied for the license.

The Friday ruling has sparked celebration in Galesville, a West River village where residents signed petitions and raised money door-to-door to fight a liquor license they feared would attract out-of-town revelers.

The liquor board has yet to determine the ruling's repercussions for other license holders.

But the rare reversal is a clear rebuke to the board. "This decision overturns about 60 years of liquor board practice and precedent," Chairman Richard Bittner said yesterday in an interview.

A state anti-monopoly measure, passed in the days after Prohibition, bars liquor license holders in Anne Arundel County from having any interest, direct or indirect, in another county liquor license. Most Maryland counties have similar restrictions.

But Bittner, a board member since 1990, said the body has let husband-wife business partners and small local entrepreneurs have more than one license, so long as the names on the applications differ and the establishments are separately managed.

Bittner defended the practice, saying that the board has been extremely conservative about issuing new liquor licenses of any kind. He said that multiple licenses have been granted to perhaps a half-dozen people running related establishments.

Among them, he said, are Marriott hotels, the owners of the Double T Diners and other restaurants with more than one location, including Adam's The Place For Ribs and Garry's Grill.

Board lawyer Trevor Kiessling said the ruling does not apply to other cases. But he said the board will have to respond because the ruling gives liquor license opponents a proven avenue to challenge decisions.

"We're going to have to address the issue one way or another, whether by appeal or by legislation or by other corrective action," he said. "The board doesn't want to get reversed."

Kiessling said the board was unlikely to go back through its existing licenses to root out multiple licensees.

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