Liquor licenses on the rise

Board sees surge of requests

new law could spur business growth

July 28, 2006|By PHILLIP MCGOWAN | PHILLIP MCGOWAN,SUN REPORTER

Anne Arundel County officials are preparing for a serious uptick in liquor-license requests for restaurants - from local vendors and national chains alike - now that a new state law has opened the door to more dining options in the county's fastest-growing areas.

Since legislation took effect July 1 allowing restaurateurs to hold up to six licenses in Anne Arundel, the county liquor board has received 15 inquiries for licenses, up from the average of two or three a month, said Victoria Bowen, a county liquor board administrator.

Interested parties include Outback, Ruby Tuesday, TGI Friday's and Bennigan's.

"We are seeing some good results in the short 27 days since the bill has become law," said Aaron Greenfield, president and chief executive of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., the county's economic development arm.

And to ensure that no stone is left unturned, the economic development agency mailed a series of promotional postcards to real estate brokers and local family owned restaurants that trumpeted the newly expanded market opportunities and the county's affluent demographics.

A recent draft study by the agency showed that the county could support an additional 38 full-service restaurants - a finding made before news of a defense job boom at Fort Meade. Military shifts are expected to bring at least 20,000 jobs to the county over the next five years, many of them high-paying tech positions.

The county study said there were 204 restaurants with liquor licenses in the county as of April 2005 - for a population of more than 500,000.

"There's certainly a demand now," Greenfield said. Citing the effects of military base realignment, growth at the National Security Agency, and the continued expansion of Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport, he added, "The demand will certainly be there."

Licenses to sell drinks must be approved by the county liquor board and the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, meaning restaurants likely won't begin popping up for at least a year.

The law requires restaurant owners seeking additional licenses to locate in one of several designated growth and revitalization areas: Annapolis Towne Centre at Parole; the proposed Odenton Town Center; areas around BWI; the Glen Burnie renewal area; the Route 198 corridor in Laurel; locations in Severn, Edgewater, Mayo and Pasadena; or at a shopping center of at least 1 million square feet.

Bowen said she anticipates the effect of the law to generate at least as much buzz as the BWI liquor-license bill did in April 2004. Before that law, the state permitted just one shared license at the airport. Now, she said, there are 36 licenses held among four companies.

"I feel that is what is going to happen with this new bill: An attorney is going to walk in with six applications at one time," Bowen said.

Residents throughout the county, especially in growth areas in the western tiers, have long complained about the lack of restaurants because of the restrictions. At the same time, national restaurant chains have long eyed expanding in the county but were unable to do so. Both groups implored county leaders to seek changes.

Anne Arundel legislators pushed through a bill in 2000 to increase the number of liquor licenses a restaurant owner could hold from one to two - a standard that remained unchanged until lawmakers expanded the cap to six.

In recent years, local vendors such as the Double T Diner got around the more restrictive law by slightly changing the name of their new restaurants and having different business partners hold the liquor licenses. Some small operators have feared the further lifting of license caps would enable big chains to put them out of business, but Greenfield said that his office's efforts would focus on ensuring that local restaurants prosper.

All 20 members of the Anne Arundel legislative delegation supported the most recent bill to expand the liquor-license law, given the large development projects planned or underway in Annapolis, Parole, Odenton and Glen Burnie.

Greenfield said that high-profile projects stand to benefit from the law as new restaurant chains consider doing business in the county. "But I wouldn't limit it to them," he said, noting the potential for revitalization in designated growth areas. "I also see this as a community development bill."

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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