Anne Arundel County could see an infusion of chain restaurants in town centers and other areas targeted for economic growth and renewal if a bill being pushed by a trio of local delegates becomes law.
The draft bill would allow the county Board of License Commissioners to grant a second liquor license for restaurant license holders opening an additional establishment -- or two licenses for new applicants whose plans include a restaurant in a targeted area.
The delegates -- Democrats Theodore J. Sophocleus and Mary Ann Love, both of the North County's District 32, and Pasadena Republican John R. Leopold of the 31st -- are hoping to file it by the end of the year, for consideration in the General Assembly session beginning in January.
In Anne Arundel, liquor laws allow one license per restaurant, which prevents chain operations from having multiple locations in, for example, Parole and Glen Burnie. The result has been most chain restaurants with liquor service locating in and around Annapolis -- a prime tourist and business area.
An effect of existing laws is protection for individual, locally owned operations from some competition.
Opponents of the multilicense bill are working on legislation deemed more protective of the owners of individual establishments.
Allen Aronstein, president of the Beverage Association, which represents county liquor license holders, said the legislators' bill "is leaning toward all large national franchises" and remains a concern to small-business owners.
The multilicense proposal was drafted by the Multiple Liquor License Study Group, a panel of legislators and county business leaders.
It has emerged after several months of discussion among the panel members, some of whom supported multiple licenses and others who wanted to limit the number of licenses to protect small restaurants and businesses that have long been a part of county's landscape.
"Anne Arundel County needs to be a tenacious competitor," Leopold said. "This [bill] allows us to move forward with economic development initiatives. These are not only job-creating entities, but they also serve as magnets for other economic development."
The proposal would allow a person or company to hold a maximum of two liquor licenses in the county.
The first could be of any class -- for a tavern, restaurant, bar or liquor store -- but the second would be limited to a Class H restaurant license permitting the sale of beer, wine and liquor, or just beer and wine.
That second license would be allowed only for a restaurant at the Village at Waugh Chapel complex, the Baltimore-Washington International Airport business corridor, or in the Glen Burnie, Parole, or Odenton town centers. Shopping centers with a gross area of more than 1 million square feet -- now only Marley Station mall and Annapolis Mall -- are also included in the bill's provisions.
The draft legislation also calls for Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. and the county Board of License Commissioners to assess the economic impact of the law after five years.
The study group decided to restrict the law's expansion to only two licenses and to areas targeted by the county for growth, so there would be less impact on the small-business owners who are most concerned about being overrun by national chains.
"We wanted to protect the existing businesses," Sophocleus said. "We want to make sure it's a bill everyone can live with."
But the Beverage Association's Aronstein, who was part of the study group, said he is not sure his group can accept it.
He said the association will be drafting another bill allowing multiple licenses, but providing for more protection for small businesses.
That bill might require a chain restaurant to purchase its second license from another county business that is going under, said Jay Schwartz, a lobbyist hired to represent the association during the 2000 legislative session.
"If you need to get one, you should buy one from someone else," Schwartz said.