Those rules make sense when looked at from a historical standpoint, said David Mister, general counsel for the beverage association. For many years after Prohibition, he said, the chief concern was to limit drinking.

"The problem is that alcoholic beverages and the regulation of them was never designed to be an economic development tool," said Mister, who also sits on the task force.

But Kamenetz administration officials said that today, the restaurant sector can help revitalize local economies and that restaurants often need to sell liquor to compete.

"Restaurants help create an atmosphere of vibrancy in communities," said Dan Gundersen, executive director of the county's Department of Economic Development and co-chairman of the task force. "These are the places that we go to take our family, to enjoy the fellowship of friends, to do business."

Mike Mohler, administrator of the county liquor board and co-chairman of the task force, pointed to Frederick Road in Catonsville as an example of the revitalization that restaurants can spark.

There, restaurateur Sean Dunworth said he has "tried every which way" to get a license he can afford. He owns both Regions and Catonsville Gourmet and said a liquor license could help boost business at Regions, the smaller of the two.

"We are simply trying to buy pair some wine with fine food," Dunworth said. "But unless you have a hundred thousand bucks, that's not going to happen."

Restaurant owners can only make so much profit from food, and wholesale prices are rising, so serving alcohol can help, he said.

Petronelli, of Vito's Cafe, said some customers love his BYOB policy. Others, especially those from out of town who are in the area for business, walk out the door when they learn they can't order a drink with their meal.

"You go to an Italian restaurant," he said, "you want to have beer, you want to have wine."

Some of the task force's proposals are "low-hanging fruit" that most agree on, Mohler said. The group plans to recommend increasing the number of licenses a person or corporation can hold, and doing away with a requirement that people seeking restaurant liquor licenses must get 10 signatures from residents who live within a mile of the business. They also will suggest that license holders can be residents of anywhere in Maryland, rather than only Baltimore County.

"These are easy fixes," Mohler said.

alisonk@baltsun.com

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