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Towson Lanes liquor license hearing will go into extra frames

The Baltimore County Board of Liquor License Commissioners this week suspended its hearing for the controversial transfer of a liquor license to AMF Towson Lanes in the Campus Hills neighborhood.

At the Oct. 22 hearing in Towson, the commissioners essentially told the two sides to negotiate stipulations they can live work into an agreement for the license to better suit the community.

"We would prefer for them to have just turned it down," said Campus Hills resident Katherine Wickstrom, after the decision was made.

Yet Wickstrom, who read a prepared statement on behalf of the community at the hearing, added, "From the testimony we're hearing, it sounds like they're trying to be good neighbors

Wickstrom said the community was willing to give Towson Lanes and AMF the benefit of the doubt, with the ease of knowing that if stipulations are codified into the liquor license agreement, the community will have some recourse should a deal be reached and not upheld.

The commissioners' decision came shortly after testimony from County Councilman David Marks, who represents the 5th District, including Towson.

Marks said he had a meeting with AMF representatives on the books for Nov. 8, and while stipulations can't be placed on a license after it has been approved, the two parties can agree to them prior to the license being granted.

The commissioners tentatively scheduled the case to be re-opened on Monday, Nov. 19.

Among the list of concerns presented by residents are lighting and landscaping issues, security, more "no loitering" signs, and open lines of communication with the bowling alley's management.

"I don't want the community to walk away with nothing," said Marks, who testified before the board that he was against the license — but realistic about its chances. "I don't want a license approved without any restrictions, and if the community can come to a consensus with the bowling alley, they can take their chance with the license."

A face-to-face meeting will be a step forward in negotiations between the two parties, who have so far only communicated via letters.

Towson Lanes management insists the community never brought its concerns directly to them and that they largely were unaware of the community's issues, while the opposition has lamented the lack of communication in regards to those issues in the past.

Before the hearing was tabled, Linda Carter, attorney for Towson Lanes, called a set of witnesses who testified to the potential impact of the alley, particularly on its financial solvency going forward.

Thomas Lawson Jr., a Middle River resident who took over as the general manager of Towson Lanes in June, said he's asked "every day (and) every night" whether the alley served alcohol.

"Customers will just leave and go 15 minutes away and go to a center that does serve," he said.

Carter noted Lawson's experience as assistant manager for food and beverage at Dundalk Lanes during the period of time in which that bowling alley was given a liquor license.

Lawson said there were no problems at the Dundalk location after that license was granted, and that the final two of his 15 employees in Towson were completing a course on safe service of alcohol as the hearing was going on.

Gerald Patnode, an economic researcher, was tapped as a witness for his experience in liquor license hearings, and said for bowling alleys to attract and retain league play, it's essential to have a liquor license.

Currently, the BYOB option at the alley is only extended to league bowlers during league play, which extends from around 6 to 9 p.m. on weekdays.

Still, there was plenty of opposition at the hearing. Twenty-three residents signed up to oppose the transfer, with only one speaking for the license.

While the 325 supporters who signed AMF's petition in support of the license trumped 247 signatures collected by residents opposing the license, residents used years worth of anecdotal evidence to portray a lack of responsibility at the alley.

Of the three commissioners on the board, Commission Chairman Charles Klein said testimony, along with support from Marks and State Sen. Jim Brochin, who represents Towson and opposed the alley in a letter, was enough to sway fellow Commissioner Alexander Page to deny the license — had it come to that.

However, Klein said he and the third commissioner sitting on the case Monday, Benjamin Brooks Sr., were inclined to allow the parties to work the situation out themselves.

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