After a summer's layoff, a panel of business leaders and lawmakers is hoping to resolve a sensitive economic development issue: a proposed change in the Anne Arundel County liquor laws that would clear the way for restaurant chains.
Current laws allowing only one liquor license per restaurant -- no matter how many locations the restaurant has -- are strangling development in fast-growing parts of the county, some lawmakers argue. But small-business owners fear large corporations and chains will cut into their profits and drive them out of business.
Members of the Multiple Liquor License Study Group, which meets again at the end of this month, said they are confident they can satisfy both sides.
"I'd like to see a situation where the county can benefit from growth, and it doesn't have to be divisive or destructive," said Rob Beall, vice president of Ledo Pizza Systems, which has two restaurants in the county, only one of which can serve beer.
The study group was started in June with hopes that the panel could form a consensus, and legislators could take the proposals to Annapolis for the session in January. Although each Maryland county regulates liquor licenses differently, liquor laws still fall within the state's jurisdiction.
Bills introduced in recent years -- such as one by Del. John R. Leopold, a Pasadena Republican, to extend liquor law privileges in town centers -- failed because they did not address small business owners or other parts of the county in need of similar measures.
Under the liquor laws, a restaurant with a license to serve drinks in, for example, Parole, may not get a license to sell alcohol at a second restaurant in the northern part of the county.
Legislators argue those restrictions hinder development in key areas of the county, such as the Baltimore-Washington International Airport business corridor. When corporations have to choose, they usually would rather target the more populous Annapolis area.
When the study group meets again, members will likely discuss ideas that have been shared in smaller, informal sessions among panel members, most of them small-business owners.
One idea that quickly moved to the forefront was to create a special district in the BWI business corridor in which businesses in the county could get a second license.
Another idea that could open up the law for multiple licenses would be to relax restrictions on franchises, allowing several franchise owners in the same restaurant chain to have licenses.
None of the ideas have been proposed to the entire 13-member panel, which is headed by Leopold and Del. Theodore J. Sophocleus, a Linthicum Democrat.
"We're going to try to focus on some alternative legislative solution that will provide greater opportunity for the chains and expand opportunities for existing establishments," Leopold said. "We're trying to forge a consensus that would expand opportunities for both."
The study group will meet 10 a.m. Sept. 28 in Room 215 of the House Office Building in Annapolis.
Pub Date: 9/08/99