Howard County Council members sitting as the Liquor Board were told yesterday that they made a legal error when they voted not to allow a liquor store in the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center. Then they were told that they will make a legal mistake if they reverse that decision.
The conflicting arguments came at the end of three days of hearings spread over several weeks.
Attorney David A. Carney told the board it made "an error of law" 18 months ago when it voted 4-1 to deny a liquor license to Your Wine Shoppe Inc. on the grounds that a liquor store is not needed at the Enchanted Forest Shopping center to accommodate the public.
The board misunderstood what is necessary to accommodate the public when it made that decision, Mr. Carney said in his closing argument yesterday. "Need is not the standard. . . . Convenience is what this is all about."
It has been more than 18 years since a liquor store opened on U.S. 40 near the Enchanted Forest location, Mr. Carney said. The road is heavily traveled, and it is difficult to get in and out of the parking lots of existing stores, he said. People shouldn't have to go another location on U.S. 40 to buy alcoholic beverages, he told the board.
"If need is something that's important to you, need on an overwhelming basis has been demonstrated," Mr. Carney said. The shopping center, which draws 20,000 people a week, has exceeded expectations, he said, and merchants and customers there support Your Wine Shoppe as necessary to accommodate the buying public.
Thomas M. Meachum, the attorney representing nearby liquor store owners, said the board shouldn't even be hearing the case a second time. "There has to be substantial change" for the board to reconsider an application, Mr. Meachum said.
"The fact that you made a better case is not a reason. The fact that you made a different argument is not a reason," he said. "There is no evidence of any difference between then and now."
"It makes your jobs easy," he told board members. The applicants "had their shot the first time" and lost.
If convenience were the bench mark for issuing a liquor license, it would be hard to argue that any location would be inconvenient, Mr. Meachum said. "All [supporting] testimony was related to convenience," he said. "They put aside need. . . . The marketing data shows no need whatsoever."
The board plans a work session on the case next month and a decision and order within 90 days.
In unrelated action, the board voted 3-1 to go into executive session to discuss procedures for dealing with the sale of alcohol to minors.
Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, said the discussion should be public, but Darrel Drown, R-2nd; Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, and Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, outvoted him.