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Hagerstown City Council backs lowering seating requirement for liquor license

August 13, 2013|By HOLLY SHOK | holly.shok@herald-mail.com

Smaller Hagerstown restaurants may soon be able to serve alcohol after the Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday agreed to support lowering the seating requirement from 75 to 50 patrons to attain a liquor license.

In an effort to reduce barriers for growth in City Center, the five-member council reached a consensus to make a formal request to the Board of License Commissioners for Washington County for the seating requirement reduction to be made.

The three-member panel has the authority to change the seating-requirement law, according to previous reports in The Herald-Mail.

Downtown Manager Andrew Sargent said the liquor board has been very receptive to the reduction. 

Currently, Hagerstown restaurants must be able to seat 75 patrons within the fire marshal’s guidelines to have a a Class P license, or pouring license, to serve beer, wine and liquor.

A pouring license stipulates that food must be available at all times when alcohol is being served, and the annual food sales at the licensed establishment must exceed the annual sales of alcohol, with carryout sales being prohibited, the  previous reports said.

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City officials have found the liquor license requirement to be one of the barriers to continued restaurant growth downtown, according to city documents.

“What we have seen in other communities is the synergy that’s created when you have choice and varied choice in the type of restaurants that you patronize that are clustered together,” said John Lestitian, the city’s director of economic and community development.

He said that more of the smaller restaurants downtown would be able to attain a liquor license if the seating requirement were reduced.

Councilman Donald F. Munson expressed concern that some restaurants specifically designed their site around the 75-seat requirement and would face competition from restaurants that seat fewer than 75.

Lestitian said he anticipated some Hagerstown restaurants that currently seat 75 would remove some seating to make their space more comfortable if the requirement were lowered.

“I wouldn’t view it as unfair competition, I’d view it as opening up opportunity for restaurants ...” Lestitian said.

Liquor-license seating requirements vary regionally, city documents said.

For example, Frederick County, Md., currently has a 50-seat requirement, while Franklin County, Pa., has a 30-seat requirement.

Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said he would support a seating requirement as low as 30, which he noted was a number that represented the average downtown space, and possibly even lower.

“If a restaurant is responsible, it’s going to be responsible at 15 or at 50 or at 150,” he said.

Hagerstown Police Chief Mark Holtzman and Hagerstown Fire Marshal Doug DeHaven report “no detrimental effect” with the proposed reduction, city documents said.

In July, Pietro Priola spoke before the liquor board to discuss the seating requirement, saying he wished to serve beer and wine at his new restaurant and coffee shop at 2 W. Washington St., but was concerned the space’s ability to seat only 31 patrons would be an obstacle.

Priola later said that serving alcohol would help in competition against larger restaurants with liquor licenses.

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