Carroll County's choices of catering facilities could expand if the county commissioners approve an amendment to regulations governing country inns.
Responding to Michael Gross' request in March, the Planning and Zoning Commission has recommended that the county allow country inns to cater private parties and receptions on site.
Currently, outside caterers must be hired to provide food for parties or receptions at country inns.
Mr. Gross is the owner of the Bowling Brook country inn in Middleburg and the Westminster Inn, a bed and breakfast. The other two country inns operating in Carroll County are Antrim 1844 in Taneytown and the Winchester Inn in Westminster.
"There is already an established practice [nationally] that country inns do this," Solveig Smith, the county zoning administrator, told the commission.
Antrim 1844 and Winchester Inn cater private affairs, she said, but both are within municipal limits and are governed by city regulations.
"This practice is not clearly within the limitations of an accessory use," Ms. Smith said. "In fact, it flies in the face of the condition that meals should only be served to the inn's guests."
Under Carroll regulations, a country inn building must be at least 50 years old, accommodate up to eight guests and serve meals. A bed and breakfast may serve only one meal a day.
Ms. Smith said the amendment would not allow country inns to operate restaurants, a practice that is permitted by several other areas, including Howard County.
"We felt this was a compromise and a halfway point," she said. "We want to present the residential character of these neighborhoods."
Mr. Gross' attorney, Charles M. Preston, said, "Our proposal is not to open a restaurant to the community. We don't seek that now and don't intend to in the future.
"Since it has been at least passively acknowledged that this [catering] goes very conveniently with this type of facility, to not put it in [the ordinance] is to punish those people who are trying to provide good and attractive things for the entire county."
Only Carroll County Attorney Charles W. "Chuck" Thompson Jr. opposed the suggestion.
"There will be little to set apart a country inn from an establishment such as Martin's of Westminster or Friendly Farms if this amendment is adopted," Mr. Thompson said in a letter to the planning commission. "Each can conduct catering for large numbers of people at any time, on any day, for days on end without any true limitation."
Ms. Smith responded, "Catering special affairs is not the same as having a restaurant open until midnight every night."
She also said that catered affairs would be limited to one day and would be invitation only.
"We thought that it was quite OK and moving in a desirable direction," Carroll Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said yesterday. "I see no reason why such institutions shouldn't be allowed to cater. It seemed like a logical request."
Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said, "I didn't think that there was anything controversial about the request as long as [the inns] were registered and checked periodically. This will give them more freedom to do a variety of things."
The commissioners expect to hold a public hearing on the proposed amendment within a month.