The owners of the proposed Cork Wine and Spirits in Tollgate Marketplace want tentative approval for their liquor license before moving ahead with the rest of their plans.
Other liquor store licensees in the county, however, think the Harford County Liquor Control Board should wait until the store has the proper zoning before it holds a hearing for a license, tentative or otherwise.
JBST Enterprises Inc. — Jennifer Linthicum of Baltimore, Tessa Hosutt of Bel Air, Joseph Vales of Hampstead and Dorothy Leslie of Marriottsville — filed an application with the liquor board for a license for a more than 9,400-square-foot store in the space that was occupied by Party City until it moved into another space in the same shopping center.
“In order for us to go forward, we want to make sure we have our tentative approval from this board prior to seeking any other government approvals that would be necessary to open the liquor store at the proposed location,” Joseph Snee, lawyer for JBST, told members of the liquor board at their meeting Wednesday.
He cited a board rule that says the board “may give tentative approval of an application based on approved written plans and specifications submitted to the board" if an application is filed for a proposed license premises on which construction has not been completed.
Final liquor license approval can be given once improvements have been made; final approval has been obtained from all required agencies — including health department, fire marshal and a certificate for use and occupancy; a final approval hearing date is advertised and held; and the business is ready for operation and open to the public.
Lawyer Albert J. Young, representing 21 Harford County licensees opposed to the new license, said he doesn’t ever remember provisions where someone did have their zoning first.
“It’s not fire marshal, it’s not health department, it’s not use and occupancy — those things happened after construction has occurred,” Young told the board. “The code sets it up in a way that says the license may not be issued unless you conform with applicable zoning laws, and I don’t think this space does that.”
A zoning special exception is required for a liquor store in the Town of Bel Air, Planning Director Kevin Small said.
An application for the exception was filed by JBST Tuesday and is set to be heard by the Board of Appeals on Oct. 22, he said.
The exception could be approved or denied that night or board members could delay a vote.
The licensing process has the potential to drag on if it goes through the court system, which Young said could happen.
“This is for a 9,400-square-foot store — your regulations don’t even allow for a store 10,000 square feet or more,” Young said. “This is a massive store. It is very likely, as you can see from the opposition here today, that there will be significant opposition to the special exception and a likelihood that it will be modified to a smaller square footage.”
If the square footage is reduced, the applicants would have to start the process over again, so it would be a waste of the liquor board’s time to go through the tentative approval process if it’s just going to have to do it again, Young said.
The board also has provisions that tentative approval is only good for six months.
“Zoning cases are very, very, very difficult to get through in six months,” Young said. “It’s very likely that it’s going to exceed the initial approval.
“To be forthright, it’s very likely going to be appealed, and that would go on forever and your tentative approval could expire.”
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Snee said the liquor board rule that allows tentative approval for a license to be granted dates to a 1987 case, which he was involved in.
The health department required final architectural plans, kitchen and layout plans, which Snee’s client paid for.
“They came before this board and the board turned down the restaurant license on the basis that there were too many restaurants already in the area,” Snee said. “The board, in its wisdom, said it doesn’t make sense to put a business person through the time and expense of all that if they’re not going to be sure they’re going to get tentative approval for the most important asset, which is the liquor license.”
Board members said they would discuss the issue at their next executive session, which is expected to be after the board’s next meeting Oct. 9.
“We can take your comments and remarks under advisement,” board chairwoman Sheryl Davis Kohl said. “We’re trying to weigh this and be fair to all parties involved.”
Beginning in October, liquor board meetings will be held at 9 a.m. on Wednesdays rather than 3 p.m.
Board members changed the time so liquor licensees are not being pulled away from their businesses at what can be their busiest times of the day.