"I think it's absolutely 'for use in conjunction with,' " Santos said, citing the state law.

Board chairman William Neault agreed: "Whereas they are separated by upstairs and downstairs, they are still in the building. So to me, too much is shared."

Not O'Donnell's first

The board's decision came four hours after the July 30 hearing started. Previous hearings, each also about four hours in length, were held May 1 and June 14.


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Most of the July 30 hearing was spent listening to testimony from O'Donnell.

O'Donnell owns two other liquor stores, one in Fayetteville, N.Y. and one in Ocean, N.J. Both are located in shopping centers with Wegmans grocery stores, in which Wegmans owns the land and serves as O'Donnell's landlord.

After learning Howard County law requires a county resident be listed on all liquor licenses granted here, O'Donnell said he "communicated that to the Wegmans folks" and an attorney who had worked with Smith suggested the partnership.

"When we talk about these Wegmans folks, they're also my friends and my colleagues," noted O'Donnell, who had previously revealed it was his father-in-law who mentioned the opportunity for the New York liquor store and someone in the Wegmans real estate department who had approached him about the New Jersey store.

O'Donnell also admits that his business model of offering a large selection of alcohol, featuring craft beers and foreign wines, is based on leveraging the customer traffic from Wegmans stores.

However, O'Donnell noted Wegmans has no interest in his stores and no say in his inventory, prices or any other decisions regarding the operations of his store.

"The only role that Wegmans will have is that of my landlord," he said.

O'Donnell, who said he would not be involved in the day-to-day operations of the store once it's up and running, discussed building a team of employees for the store, including a manager to work under Smith who has experience running a liquor store.

However, board members felt uneasy approving the license without that experience in place and with O'Donnell — whom Evans called "the brains" of the operation" — being in another state.

Smith "presented himself as a pretty uneducated potential owner," Santos said, noting he was unable to answer questions at the first hearing about the planned inventory for the store or O'Donnell's role in its operations.

"His liquor experience, he testified, was an interest in craft beers," Santos said.

Smith was the person who applied for the liquor license, as Maryland law prevents someone who holds a license in another state from obtaining one in Maryland. O'Donnell, who holds the license for his other two stores, was only present for the final hearing, showing up only at the board's request.

"It's my understanding that if you're going to be responsible you have to be on the license," board member James McQuarrie said, noting the license holder is the person the board calls in when there is a violation. "And you can't be because you're licensed in another state."