Legislation

A bill approved in the Maryland General Assembly will allow restaurants in Howard County to sell wine in refillable containers to go. So far, the only spot in the county that has wine on tap is the Aida Bistro Wine Bar in Columbia whose owner, Joe Barbera, is on the edge of what he sees as a burgeoning market in wines on tap. (Doug Kapustin / Baltimore Sun / February 27, 2013)

Wine growlers are coming to Maryland and the music at Merriweather Post Pavilion can play at the usual volume under Howard County-based legislation adopted in the 2013 General Assembly session.

The Howard legislative delegation got just about everything it asked for in the session, which ended this week, either by having bills passed, folded into statewide legislation or included in the state's capital budget.

The legislature approved bills to allow the county to create a property tax credit to encourage improvement of certain neighborhoods and give library employees the right to form a union.

A measure to allow volunteer fire companies and veterans organizations to hold charity casino events, including roulette and card games, did not pass. A bill to finance restoration of five buildings at the historic Belmont property received half the money the delegation originally requested.

County legislators introduced five bills related to alcohol, a few tailored to specific requests.

Joe Barbera, owner of Aida Wine Bar Bistro in Columbia, asked delegation co-chairman Del. Guy Guzzone to introduce legislation allowing wine to be sold in refillable containers called growlers — supposedly named for the sound the containers make when sliding down the bar. It's already legal in Howard, Baltimore City and a few other jurisdictions to sell beer this way, but the new law will make Howard the first place in Maryland to allow wine to be sold in growlers.

Barbera says jokingly that he prefers to give the name a French flavor by calling it a "growlier." Whatever the lingo, he's making arrangements to be ready to go once the legislation takes effect July 1.

"We're excited that we have the chance to do this," said Barbera, whose restaurant is one of the few spots in the state to offer wine on tap, usually with about 30 reds and whites available. He does sell bottled wine, but said most of the wine he sells is served from the tap.

He said he'll need to get a separate county license, and he's making arrangements to bring in a supply of 550 milliliter "growliers" with his own label. He'll also have a nitrogen/carbon dioxide line run to the bar so the bottles can be filled, topped with a shot of the gases to drive out the oxygen and capped to go.

It's not clear how many other county establishments will offer wine in refillable bottles, but both restaurants and liquor stores will be allowed to do it. The refillable bottle size is limited to between 17 and 34 ounces, or about 503 and 1,006 milliliters.

Barbera said he hasn't worked out what he'll charge for wine sold this way, but said it would be higher than buying a bottle in a liquor store, but lower than the usual restaurant bottle price. The bottle itself will cost between $8 and $12, Barbera said, and would be replaced at each refill at no charge with a fresh bottle sanitized by the restaurant.

Other alcohol-related bills adopted in this session will allow retirement communities to sell drinks at social occasions, and make wine available for sale at farmers' markets. Another law would allow a pub to sell the beer made at a farm brewery.

One specific bill was meant to resolve a problem for a businessperson in Columbia who wants to open a restaurant with a liquor license at a spot 489 feet from Wilde Lake Middle School — 11 feet too close by previous standards. The new law reduces from 500 to 400 feet the distance required between a restaurant with a liquor license and a public school.

Merriweather noise

The question of proximity also played into a bill regarding sound at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Managers of the Columbia amphitheater said the measure would only ensure they can continue to operate in the same way they do now — neither louder nor softer.

Merriweather's management, I.M.P. Productions, asked for a bill to exempt the 19,000-person capacity amphitheater from state noise-control laws that set certain limits on volume within specific distances from the stage and times of day. They asked that the bill declare void the county noise regulations in effect on Oct. 1.

The amphitheater management got it, but also an amendment that would allow the county — after its regulations are wiped off the slate — to impose new restrictions if officials find it necessary to do so. That seemed to reassure both the management and at least one member of a community association board who had opposed the bill.

"That pleased us," said Linda Wengel, vice chairwoman of the Town Center village board, who said she was not speaking officially for the board. She said she hoped the county would use that authority if there are complaints about volume.

"There have always been complaints from residents of Town Center and other villages" in Columbia, Wengel said.

Audrey Schaefer, a spokeswoman for Merriweather, said management is not concerned about the county imposing strict noise standards, as the amphitheater will continue to operate as it has in the past.