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Sykesville seeks state amendment to alcohol law

Sykesville's Wine and Arts Festival in May was seen as arguably the most successful event in the town's history, drawing 6,000 visitors and bringing in more than $20,000. Town officials are hoping to duplicate the event's success in the future, only this time they are hoping they can do it legally.

Steven Colella, the town's economic development/Main Street coordinator, said due to a last-minute event format change, which included selling alcohol on Main Street, the town unknowingly violated the temporary liquor license it received from the county's Board of License Commissioners — more commonly known as the liquor board. Sykesville was not fined for the violation, but events in the future, such as the upcoming Fall Festival, will not include the sale of alcohol along Main Street.

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The original plan called for the closing of Main Street from Oklahoma Avenue to just south of the bridge over the South Branch of the Patapsco River, Colella said. After receiving requests from several businesses to keep a lane of traffic open, and the State Highway Administration requesting an additional detour, the town chose to close Main Street farther north and leave the bridge open to traffic to allow commuters to reach Baldwin's Station restaurant.

State law requires that alcohol may not be sold along state-controlled highways. Main Street in Sykesville is a portion of Md. 851, a state roadway. And while there is a tentative plan in the works that would give control of that section of Md. 851 to the town, the road is still Maryland's responsibility.

Colella said that since he was new to the town — he became the economic development/Main Street coordinator in February — he was unaware he had to receive permission from the liquor board to make the change.

"There were many considerations to take and I did not intend to go around the liquor board," he said.

Tim Dixon, an assistant county attorney who works with the liquor board, said one way of duplicating the event would be to find an exception in state law that would allow Sykesville to serve alcohol along Md. 851, but he is unaware of any such exceptions.

"My main concern is they have to close off state roads and I don't know if [this event] qualifies for closing state roads," Dixon said. "I don't know of any examples of it being done. I really have to get some help from the state to get [its] perspective. That's what we have to look into."

Another alternative would be to submit a bill with the General Assembly to have the law amended to allow Sykesville to sell alcohol along Main Street, but that couldn't happen until the next session, which opens in January.

In Washington County, the City of Hagerstown urged its state legislators to introduce such a bill on its behalf during this year's legislative session. Senate Bill 922 was passed in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate, and went into effect June 1.

During a liquor board hearing June 10, Chairman Roland Meerdter said the board is required to enforce the section of the Annotated Code of Maryland which addresses alcohol licensing, sales and consumption, and currently prohibits the sale and consumption along state highways.

"So unless you have a bill [like Hagerstown], you can't have open beverages up and down the street even if the SHA allows you to close off the street," Meerdter told Sykesville officials. "That's for the societal good so you don't have a bunch of drunks out there getting more drunk and being profane. If you want to do this in the future, I don't think we can give you a license to do what you did."

Colella said if Sykesville decides to take this route, the town will work with Carroll's seven other municipalities to develop a bill that would allow for the sale of alcohol along state highways throughout the county. Taneytown, Manchester, Hampstead, New Windsor, Union Bridge and Mount Airy each have a state highway that runs through town.

"We would probably tackle it from a Carroll County approach," Colella said. "Hagerstown set a great precedent for us so that all municipalities can benefit from that type of legislation."

Playing into Sykesville's favor is Md. 32, which bypasses the town and could act as a traffic detour, Dixon said.

"There's got to be a way around the event for ambulances and fire trucks," he said. "Fortunately in Sykesville, there's [Md.] 32 so there's a way around."

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Not all municipalities may be so fortunate, Colella said.

"It will come back to partnering with the liquor board and the SHA to make sure [the bill] is appropriate for any municipality [with a detour] and alternatives for other municipalities [without a detour,]" Colella said.

He stressed that Sykesville is not trying to circumvent the liquor board and he is looking forward to working with them to possibly amend the law.

"This is not a clash with the liquor board, we are hoping to partner with its legal counsel so we are all on the same page," Colella said. "We are excited to partner with them to continue to benefit the people and businesses downtown."

Sykesville sits within the borders of Carroll, yet is folded into legislative House District 9A, which includes a large portion of Howard County. Del. Trent Kittleman, R-District 9A, said she would consider introducing a bill on Sykesville's behalf.

"I absolutely would consider it," Kittleman said. "I actually attended their last Wine and Arts Festival. I'd obviously have to talk to [Sykesville staff] to find out any alternatives first."

Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 5, which represents the majority of Carroll County, said if the liquor board viewed the bill favorably, and a local public hearing process revealed no major issues or flaws, she would be happy to take up the matter during the next legislative session.

"Changing the law would clear this up," Krebs said. "The county attorney, the liquor board or the towns can make the request. If the liquor board supports it, [Carroll's state legislators] will look into it."

Del. April Rose, R-District 5, said that while it would have to be a legislator of District 9A who enters the bill, she would like to look into the merits of the bill.

"If the town was interested in it, I think that if that would help the town bring in more people for tourism and drive business to all the shops, I would certainly be interested in speaking with [Sykesville officials] about it," Rose said.

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