A new applicant is seeking a license for the site of the former Decker's Wine and Spirits on Baltimore Pike in Bel Air, and made its case before the Harford County Liquor Control Board and a room full of opposition Wednesday afternoon.
The room was packed with many liquor store owners opposing the potential competition, as Joe Snee, the lawyer representing applicant PAS Corporation, trading as Discount Liquor, made the applicant's case to the liquor board. The board is expected to make a decision next week.
Decker's Wine and Spirits was forced to close last year after its financial backers, a Howard County couple, pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges of extortion and were forced to pay fines totaling more than $1 million.
The far-reaching case implicated a Prince George's County police officer and that county's former county executive.
Owners of liquor stores in Fallston, Greenbrier and Bel Air told the board Wednesday the new license should be denied.
Some said that if the location was viable, the owners would have probably avoided breaking so many laws and that the store would be a major burden on other businesses, at a bad economic time.
Snee, who has represented many a licensee before the liquor board, blasted those owners, who were opposing the application, for being "self-serving" and said there is no good reason for denying competition.
"By their same logic, they would have never gotten a license, either, because there was someone that already preceded them," he said. "What's more, this particular location has been licensed for the last 30 years, except for the last 16 months."
He said the new license would simply "restore the status quo."
"Economic self-interest is not a reason to turn down this prospective licensee," Snee said.
He also said contrary to some testimony, "there is evidence that people drink more during bad times, quite frankly."
He compared liquor stores to pharmacies like RiteAid or CVS, which are everywhere despite heavy regulation of prescription drugs.
"I am not suggesting we have liquor stores all over the place, but it is not unusual to have [a business with a product] that is heavily regulated by the government," Snee said, adding the only issue is whether the business is useful to the public and meets a need.
He also said the site was zoned B3, after a long comprehensive rezoning process by the county, and that the residents of Howard Park would be among those directly served by the liquor store.
"The Bel Air market area was served by 14 licensees until 2011, so essentially, we are just returning to the competitive balance we had since 2011," he said.
Snee had brought real estate economic consultant Joseph Cronyn, from Columbia, to testify that having a liquor store on the property makes economic sense.
Cronyn said the continued growth of Bel Air, combined with the prime retail spot of 401 N. Baltimore Pike, means it's a good location for a liquor store.
"No surprise to anyone in this room, the address here, 401 N. Baltimore Pike, is extremely well-located," Cronyn said, noting it is at a traffic signal and corner. "It's really the commercial heart in Harford County."
The location would include 49 parking spaces and has access from Baltimore Pike.
The average annual traffic on Route 1 past the site is 32,911 daily trips, Cronyn said.
"That is a very high number," he said.
Snee also asked the board to waive a 1,000-foot requirement for the business to be situated away from a school, noting Bel Air Liquors is only 700 feet from the Bel Air High School property and the board has a history of granting that waiver.
In other liquor board action Wednesday:
• The board approved outside event applications for Laurrapin Grille on Oct. 5, Rodgers House Tavern on Oct. 5 and Oct. 13, MacGregor's on Oct. 5, Joseph L. Davis American Legion Post on Oct. 5 and Friendship Wine & Spirits on Oct. 20.
• The board acknowledged fines received from Scotto's Cafe of $1,750, Joppa Amoco Inc., of $250, Magoo's Smokehouse of $500, Santini's Restaurant Inc., of $500, Basta Pasta of $100 and P&G Mini Mart in $500.
• The board approved one-day beer and wine licenses for the Knights of Columbus Ladies Auxiliary on Oct. 6, United Way of Central Maryland on Oct. 10, Harford County Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 11, Edgewood High School Alumni Association on Oct. 13, Havre de Grace Main Street Inc., on Oct. 13, Jerusalem Lutheran Church on Oct. 13, SIDS Annual Bull Roast on Oct. 19, Committee to Elect Jeff Gahler on Oct. 19, Harford Community College Foundation on Oct. 19, St. Francis de Sales Church on Oct. 20 and Albert P. Close Foundation on Oct. 26.