Reactions mixed on bill to aid Towson


A bill that would allow the transfer of six liquor licenses to central Towson got a lukewarm reception yesterday from Baltimore County senators, who applauded the goal of revitalizing the county seat but questioned how much proponents had consulted licensees.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. James Brochin, a Towson Democrat, and supported by County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, is part of what they call a holistic effort to make Towson an attractive shopping and dining destination. They told the county's senatorial delegation yesterday that they are working to clean up blighted properties, increase parking and provide tax incentives, but that developers won't be interested in the area unless they know they will be able to get liquor licenses.

"If we're only putting together a half-package when we revitalize, we can't do it," said Gardina, a Perry Hall-Towson Democrat.

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. came out in favor of an amended version of the bill yesterday. He said he supports allowing the transfer of three licenses from the east side of the county to Towson and requiring that all of the licenses be applied for and granted within two years of when the law takes effect.

That way, said county lobbyist Pat Roddy, the legislators can gauge the law's effects before the end of the term.

Representatives of several Towson-area business organizations testified on behalf of the bill, saying that a critical mass of restaurants would create a vibrant environment that would benefit all businesses.

But representatives of the licensed beverage industry said they were skeptical. David F. Mister, an attorney for the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association, provided senators with a list of 26 current licensees in the area and 15 Towson restaurants that have gone out of business in recent years.

There is no lack of licenses in Towson, he said.

"You have to think from an economic development standpoint of maintaining existing businesses," Mister said. "You've got a lot of vibrant businesses, important businesses in Baltimore County."

Three of the six senators who attended the hearing expressed reservations about the bill. Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a Dundalk Democrat and chairman of the county's Senate delegation, said he thought the bill would need extensive amendments. Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier, a Perry Hall Democrat, said there are a number of restaurant options in Towson already and that additional competition would put them out of business.

And Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Randallstown Democrat, repeatedly questioned Brochin and Gardina about how much input they had gotten from the licensed beverage industry.

"Even if you do something the devil might oppose, it's better to bring the devil in the house so you know what the reason for opposition might be," she said.

Brochin said he had consulted the industry and had talked to several Towson restaurateurs who wrote letters of support for the bill. But Mister and Jack Milani, the beverage association's legislative director, said that in other areas they had worked much more extensively with developers over a long period to provide revitalization without devaluing existing licenses.

"These are things I think we need to be at the table discussing before you put a bill in," Milani said. "We are willing to help you, but this is a bad bill."

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