Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary is risking a clash with hundreds of small business owners by pushing a change in county law that could attract more national restaurant franchises to the area.
Mr. Gary had legislation submitted to the General Assembly last week that would lift what Anne Arundel economic development officials say is a barrier to their efforts -- a law limiting restaurant chains to one liquor license within county lines.
If approved, the legislation would permit a chain to apply for additional licenses as it opens restaurants outside Annapolis.
The one-license limit has cost the county money and recruiting leverage, say economic development officials. They cite restaurants such as Ruby Tuesday's and Olive Garden that have chosen not to open second franchises in the county or have done so in Annapolis, which sets its own liquor-licensing rules.
By themselves, large franchise restaurants are economic dynamos, employing as many as 100 workers and earning $5 million to $7 million in annual revenues, according to county economic development officials.
Mr. Gary said the Outback Steakhouse and T. G. I. Friday's chains have shown interest in opening second county locations if the licensing law is changed.
But the jumbo restaurants may be more important as magnets for new industry.
Michael S. Lofton, who runs the county Economic Development Corp., said commercial plazas such as the Hock, Cromwell and National business parks around the Baltimore-Washington International Airport would fill with the arrival of a well-known restaurant.
Small restaurant owners, represented by the Anne Arundel County License Beverage Association, fear the bill could harm their businesses.
Mr. Gary has met with the group to explain his plans, but skepticism remains.
"It goes against our philosophy of one person, one license," said Greg Phillips, an association member who owns Frank's Den in Glen Burnie. "I'm totally opposed to the bill."
Under the proposed law, restaurants with capital investments valued at more than $750,000 and with parking for at least 75 cars would be allowed to apply for a second liquor license. Permits would cost $1,500 a year.