Tighter limits sought on number of Washington County liquor licenses

January 19, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |

The Washington County Restaurant & Beverage Association wants to tighten the limit on how many liquor licenses may be issued in the county.

The association has proposed changing the county's law so that one license would be allowed per 3,500 people in an election district, instead of the current ratio of one license per 1,000 people.

The new limit would not apply to restaurants.

Louis L. Thomas, the association's president, said in a telephone interview  Thursday that the change is meant to protect the community from having too many liquor-selling establishments. It also would lessen competition for existing license holders.

Thomas was in Annapolis on Wednesday to encourage the Washington County legislative delegation to file a bill on the requested change.

To become law, the bill would have to be approved by the entire Maryland General Assembly and signed by the governor. Typically, on a local issue, lawmakers defer to the wishes of legislators from that area.

However, if the measure is approved, it apparently wouldn't have much  effect now.

Robert L. Everhart, the chairman of the Washington County Board of License Commissioners, said there is little, if any, capacity left in any election district in the county for a new liquor license, even at the 1-per-1,000 ratio.

The delegation did not vote on the association's request and is expected to discuss it further next week.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, and Sen. Ronald N. Young, D-Frederick, both said Thursday that they want to be sure that restaurants aren't affected by the proposed change.

Otherwise, "it could kill the downtown," Young said.

Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said Wednesday that he preferred holding off on a vote on submitting the bill so he could hear public reaction to it first.

"It has a pretty dramatic impact," he said.

A sample of local liquor boards shows that the ratio of licenses per population within an election district varies by county.

Frederick County allows one license per 4,000 people for many establishments, including liquor stores. There's no population limit for restaurants.

Carroll County allows one liquor-store license per 5,000 people and has no population restrictions on other types of liquor licenses.

Allegany County's limit is one license per 1,300 people for restaurants, bars and other off-sale businesses. Other types of licenses are not limited.

Garrett County's liquor board could not be reached on Thursday afternoon, but Myers said there are no limits there based on population.

The Washington County liquor board is not taking a position for or against the Restaurant & Beverage Association's request, Everhart said.

He said the ratio of licenses per people in an election district is a guideline the board generally follows but can overrule if there is a compelling reason.

If an election district has reached its saturation point for liquor licenses, a prospective applicant would have to wait until someone in that district gives up a license or agrees to transfer it.

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