Three years after Howard County's Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board denied a liquor license application for a proposed business on the second story of the Wegmans store in Columbia, a new entrepreneur is hoping to win the board's approval for a venture in the same spot.
While the location is the same, an attorney for Thomas Quick, who wants to open a beer, wine and liquor store in about 9,900 square feet of space next to the supermarket's upstairs customer seating area, says this proposal has some important distinctions.
First of all, says Tom Meachum, of the Carney, Kelehan, Bresler, Bennett & Scherr law firm, "Tom Quick's business would not be predicated upon the success of Wegmans."
In July 2012, the Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board, a five-member appointed group that makes decisions on whether to approve, deny or revoke liquor licenses, said a proposal from Columbia Wine Partners LLC violated a state law that prohibits the licenses from being "issued to or for use in conjunction with or on the premise of" a grocery or chain store. Grocery stores that held liquor licenses before the law was passed in the 1960s were grandfathered in.
Board members at the time said the partners, Christopher O'Donnell, who is the husband of Wegmans president Colleen Wegman, and Mike Smith, a local attorney who had done labor law work for the supermarket chain, were too closely connected to the Wegmans business.
They also said the proposed store, with its planned entrance through the upstairs seating area, would be too easily accessible by Wegmans customers and not distinct enough from the grocery store.
"Whereas they are separated by upstairs and downstairs, they are still in the building. So to me, too much is shared," then-Board Chairman William Neault said.
Quick does not have any connection to the Wegmans business, according to Meachum, and under the new proposal, the only access to the store would be from the outside. The second story of the building is connected to a parking garage by a pedestrian bridge.
Meachum made his comments to members of the Howard County Council, sitting as the Board of License Commissioners – a separate body colloquially known as the Liquor Board that also makes liquor license decisions – at a July meeting.
The Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board had earlier denied Quick's application for a Class A-1 beer, wine and liquor license on the basis that they had already decided there should be no liquor license awarded on the second floor of Wegmans, but Meachum and Quick appealed, arguing this new proposal is substantially different and deserves to be heard.
"All he would like is an opportunity to discuss with the board what his plans for the store are, how he would like to accommodate the public," Meachum said.
The Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board also denied the 2012 liquor license application on the basis that there was no public need for another store selling alcoholic beverages in the area; Meachum did not address that argument in his remarks to the Liquor Board.
Liquor Board members voted 4-1 to send the application back to the Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board for consideration.
"The fact that we're having this much conversation, there obviously might be worth having broader conversation about it," said Councilman Calvin Ball. "Some things may have changed; whether or not those changes are then enough to grant the license, I don't know, and I don't think we have to make that decision tonight."
Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty said the proposal should be considered in the context of Columbia's changing design and demographics.
"In our history, we've seen a lot of horizontal strip malls all over the place," she said. "I think we're starting to see locations where we're having multiple tenants in more vertical buildings, and I think that's certainly something that as we watch our population increase, and decisions that we're making about vertical mixed use as opposed to horizontal mixed use, it's certainly something to be considered."
But Councilman Greg Fox, who chairs the Liquor Board, said he didn't see enough difference between the two proposals to warrant a hearing.
"It's not the fact that it's connected [to the grocery store], it's the fact that it's in close proximity to," he said. "And that hasn't changed."