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Riverside hotel gets liquor license under new law passed for its benefit

A new restaurant planned for a revamped hotel in Riverside is getting a liquor license under a new law tailor-made for it, one that allows the sale and consumption of alcohol closer to Harford County schools than previously permitted.

The Harford County Liquor Control Board approved a tentative license for Burger Theory during the board's most recent meeting Aug. 31. The burger-based restaurant will be in the Wingate by Wyndham hotel, off Route 543, which is being converted to a Holiday Inn, Joseph Snee, the lawyer representing the hotel, said.

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Burger Theory is a chain of restaurants in Holiday Inn hotels, he said.

The liquor license, a Class B hotel license, is the first use of a new state law for Harford County allowing alcoholic beverage licenses to be granted to businesses within 1,000 feet of, but at least 300 feet from, a public or private school. The hotel is 638 feet from Church Creek Elementary School.

The law was passed by the Maryland General Assembly last winter and took effect July 1. It allows for the Liquor Board to waive the requirement that liquor-providing businesses be at least 1,000 feet from a school in areas outside the county's three municipalities of Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace. The minimum setback requirement is 300 feet within the municipalities.

The board can approve the waiver of the 1,000-foot requirement for a business that falls into "the gray" area between 1,000 and 300 feet, Pilar Gracia, the liquor board's administrator, said Tuesday. It cannot go below 300 feet, unless the business is in a shopping center, which Gracia noted isn't the case with the hotel.

Gracia said the change, which Snee "marshaled" through the legislature, was a competition/fairness issue, inasmuch as the 1,000-foot minimum setback requirement was dropped down to 300 feet within the municipalities years ago.

She said the bill passed after some initial concerns about its wording being too vague were expressed by both the board and the county executive's office. The final version was "a compromise," she added.

Snee had pushed last year to waive the 1,000-foot setback requirement for Harford County, in light of the Holiday Inn coming in, but the board did not have that discretion, Gracia said, and the hotel is not in a shopping center as defined by the law.

During his appearance before the board last week, Snee thanked the Board of Education, Gov. Larry Hogan and state representatives for supporting him and "recognizing the development envelope is more dense in some places than the municipalities."

The family of Pravin Patel, Sudha Patel and Alpa Patel own the Wingate hotel and will own the new Holiday Inn franchise, he said.

To have a competitive advantage, "you really do need a full-service restaurant inside the hotel to serve your customers," Snee said.

Burger Theory is "kind of a unique concept," he said; the menu offers eight draft beers and 24 bottled ones, seven specialty burgers, a build-your-own burger option, several other entrees and a selection of wines and cocktails.

The foundation for the restaurant is expected to be poured by the winter and the goal is to open the restaurant in January, Snee said.

The restaurant will have a separate bar and shared access with the hotel entrance, so guests can take drinks to their rooms, he explained.

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