Liquor license denial hurts Arundel restaurant plans

Residents of small town rallied against proposal

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 tiny West River village where residents had signed petitions and raised money door-to-door to fight a liquor license they feared would attract rowdy, 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 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.

Woodfield and Bassford, local businessmen, had hoped to turn a one-time icehouse on Tenthouse Creek into a 200-seat waterfront restaurant and bar. It would be called Woodfield's. But its landlord, owner and operator, Annapolis Produce and Restaurant Supply Inc., is owned by Bassford.

Through separate corporations, Bassford also owns or co-owns three restaurants that serve alcohol: the Topside Inn and Steamboat Landing, both in Galesville, and Annapolis Seafood in Edgewater.

Woodfield is an employee of Bassford's Annapolis Produce. But Woodfield formed a corporation, Superior Woodfields, to apply for the new restaurant's liquor license.

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