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Appeals court hears 2 a.m. liquor license case


A lawyer for Buddy's Crabs and Ribs argued yesterday that a Circuit Court judge didn't have all the facts last year when he barred the downtown Annapolis restaurant from serving alcohol after midnight.

City officials never fully explained why they gave Buddy's a 2 a.m. liquor license two years ago, which prevented Judge Eugene M. Lerner from conducting a full review of the case, Gary A. Goldstein told the Court of Special Appeals.

"They [City Council] forgot to put the evidence in their decision," said Mr. Goldstein, who represents Buddy's owner Harvey Blonder. "There was a rationale, but it was not made part of the evidence."

The appeals court heard arguments yesterday in a case stemming from last year's ruling by Judge Lerner that reversed a City Council decision allowing Buddy's to stay open until 2 a.m.

The attorney for historic district residents, who fought the City Council's decision, said Buddy's is raising new issues in a futile effort to reopen the case.

"There are hurdles which Buddy's never was able to overcome," said Timothy E. Meredith, a Severna Park lawyer. "It makes no difference whether evidence was presented or not."

The issue of a 2 a.m. liquor license for Buddy's has been the source of conflict in the historic district since 1990, when Mr. Blonder first sought the late-night zoning that several other neighborhood restaurants have.

Mr. Blonder wanted a 2 a.m. closing time, a full-service bar and live entertainment. Local residents balked, billing Buddy's restaurant as a noisy nightclub that threatened to diminish property values and give the old neighborhood a trashy feel.

His request in 1990 for a 2 a.m. license was rejected by the City Council by one vote. The council at that time was abiding by the "supermajority" rule that required the approval of seven of nine members.

Three years later, Mr. Blonder petitioned the city again, this time under a more lenient set of rules requiring only a simple majority vote. The panel approved the license 5-4.

A group of 11 residents appealed the case to Circuit Court, where Judge Lerner ruled that the council's reversal was "arbitrary and capricious" and ordered the restaurant to close at midnight once again.

Mr. Blonder then filed an appeal with the Special Court of Appeals, the three-judge panel where the case is now.

Yesterday, Mr. Goldstein argued that Judge Lerner was not given a complete record of evidence that persuaded the City Council to reverse itself and grant the license.

Just 10 minutes before the council approved Buddy's 2 a.m. license, it also ratified a neighborhood zoning plan called the Ward One Sector Study that allowed only the historic district's existing restaurants to serve alcohol until 2 a.m., Mr. Goldstein said.

That doctrine endorses Buddy's in concept, he said.

Also, the evidence submitted to Judge Lerner excluded studies that showed the downtown parking lots had plenty of empty spots in the evenings and were well-equipped to handle extra traffic generated by the restaurant's late-night hours, Mr. Goldstein said.

But the residents' attorney argued that the council's change of heart had nothing to do with any substantial change in the law, but rather was the result of inconsistent policy making.

"Any substantial evidence of substantial change in policy simply doesn't exist," Mr. Meredith said. "And that does not support taking a position diametrically opposed to the position the City Council took three years earlier."

Mr. Goldstein said after the hearing that he may pursue a larger lawsuit against the city on the grounds that an Annapolis law specifying which restaurants are allowed 2 a.m. closings is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Mr. Goldstein said he expects a ruling from Court of Special Appeals in the next 60 days.

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