Letter: County should deny liquor license at Columbia Wegmans

The Columbia Wegmans'liquor license application should be denied for violating state law, violating county zoning, eroding the business viability of the neighboring Columbia Villages, and inconsistency with the General Plan.

Maryland law requires retail liquor operations to be separate from grocery and chain stores. Wegmans is obviously both, and their application is a blatant attempt to circumvent the existing law. Liquor retailers statewide are rightfully incensed that the rules under which their businesses were started and grew are about to be swept away.

The Wegmans property's M-1 (light manufacturing) zoning was expanded to include a food operation, not a liquor operation. Requiring acquisition of the proper zoning amendment would allow greater public scrutiny of the requested change.

The Wilde Lake Village (re)development controversy a couple years ago led the County Council to encourage all Columbia Villages to develop a Village Center Community Plan to guide future development. Of the three villages neighboring Wegmans, Oakland Mills already has a Master Plan and Long Reach has developed a Master Plan presentation to be used in crafting their formal document.

Although allowing for mixed-use, both call for an emphasis on the commercial and recreational components, supporting thriving businesses (both have liquor stores), and becoming more walkable and bikeable. Granting a Wegmans liquor license would divert business that should go to the village centers.

The PlanHoward 2030 document, soon to be adopted as the Howard County General Plan, states, "Compact, mixed-use, walkable design is central to achieving sustainable communities. Access and connectivity for transit users, cyclist, and pedestrians are key." County actions allowing service placement in the community (e.g. granting a liquor license) should conform with the General Plan. The Wegmans location has limited walkability and no cyclist provisions.

The only sidewalk to the area extends north along the west side of Snowden River Parkway, and the closest walkable residence is 1.3 miles away north of MD-175. But Wegmans has already developed their liquor store space with shelving in place and separate loading docks. The Wegmans food operation has raised docks with special doors to handle tractor trailers with chilled cargo. The liquor store 'tenant' has standard docks for off-loading dry cargo.

Wegmans must have assurances from county officials that their liquor license application will be granted despite the problems stated above. That is bothersome.

Russ Swatek

Long Reach

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