Application withdrawn for liquor store in Columbia Wegmans building

The businessman hoping to open a liquor store in the Columbia Wegmans building has withdrawn his application

A businessman who hoped to open a liquor store above the Wegmans supermarket in Columbia has withdrawn his application for a liquor license, according to his lawyer.

Thomas Quick was scheduled to go before Howard County's Alcoholic Beverage hearing board Tuesday night to ask for a Class A-1 beer, wine and liquor license for a second-story space in the Wegmans building. But Monday afternoon, Quick's lawyer, Tom Meachum, sent a letter to the county announcing Quick had decided to drop the request.

Meachum explained in an email that the decision was based on a zoning interpretation from the county's Department of Planning and Zoning.

"The time the first application was filed for this location DPZ said this location was properly zoned for a store," he wrote. "Last Friday, DPZ said it was not properly zoned. The application was withdrawn so this issue could be addressed."

In a series of memos dated Oct. 30, Nov. 3 and Nov. 12, DPZ Director Valdis Lazdins wavered on whether or not a liquor store could be permitted in the Wegmans space, a 9,000-square foot area next to the grocery store's upstairs customer seating area.

In the first memo, Lazdins writes that the store's final development plan does not permit liquor stores, but changes his mind in the second memo, where he reasons that "alcohol beverage sales are considered to be customarily related to grocery stores, therefore such sales are permitted on the property as an accessory use."

In the most recent memo, he once again revised his decision, writing that while a liquor store might be permissible as an accessory use to a grocery store, "an establishment separate and not part of the grocery store would not be permitted to sell alcoholic beverages."

Quick had predicated much of his pitch for a liquor license on the grounds that the upstairs space was distinct from the Wegmans grocery store.

In 2012, the Alcoholic Beverage hearing board rejected a similar request from a different applicant, Columbia Wine Partners LLC, because board members said the proposal violated a state law that prohibits liquor licenses from being issued to grocery stores or on the premises of grocery stores in the county. Supermarkets that do have liquor licenses were grandfathered into the law when it was passed in the 1960s.

Quick argued his application was different because he is not associated with Wegmans – one of the Columbia Wine Partners was the husband of Wegmans president Colleen Wegman – and because customers, under his proposed shop layout, would not be able to enter from inside the grocery store.

Meachum said Quick has decided to put his plan for a liquor store on hold while Wegmans looks into whether the zoning interpretation might be changed. He said it's too early to know whether Quick will submit a new application.

A group of local business owners, united as the Howard County Local Beverage Association, Inc., had planned to oppose the application. In a motion filed with the Alcoholic Beverage hearing board asking for the request to be dismissed, they argued that regulations prohibit a liquor store inside the grocery store, based on its zoning designation.

"The use would not be permitted even if the store were integral to the [Wegmans] store, because under the Howard County Zoning Regulations a liquor store is not permitted at this location at all," the motion argues.

The group also claimed Quick was not eligible to be awarded the liquor license because he already holds another, as the licensee for Cindy's Skylight Liquors in Elkridge. According to state law, a person can only hold one class A, C or D liquor license at a time.

Meachum said Quick had addressed that concern by promising to give up his license at Cindy's Skylight if the license for the Wegmans space were granted.

Katherine Taylor, an attorney for the local beverage association, called Quick's decision to withdraw "the proper step to take.

"The application should not have been filed in the first place, because the use is not allowed under the Howard County zoning regulations or State law, and because the applicant is already a licensee on another Howard County license," she wrote in an email Monday.

Quick's decision to withdraw the application comes after Howard County's Liquor Board, which is made up of the members of the Howard County Council, in July sent his case to the Alcoholic Beverage hearing board for reconsideration after members voted to deny the license request earlier this year. 

The hearing board will still hold its Nov. 17 meeting, but members will not discuss Quick's proposal.

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