Council in ferment over microbrewery debate


A resolution scheduled for discussion at tomorrow's Annapolis city council meeting could reignite the city's long-standing debate over bar closing times in the city's downtown.

The resolution, introduced by Ward 7 Alderman Michael W. Fox, would allow microbrewery pub owners to apply for an exemption that would allow them to remain open until 2 a.m. Fox said it is a first step in his plan to introduce legislation that would create a citywide exemption for microbreweries.

But Ward 1 Alderwoman Louise Hammond and downtown residents are furious that the licensing issue is being revisited.

The ban on 2 a.m. licenses "was a consensus that was reached by businesses and residents in almost a three-year process and the city council has no business trying to change it," she said.

Downtown bars and restaurants are prohibited from remaining open past midnight under a 20-year development plan approved in 1994. The plan, the Ward One Sector Study, includes a compromise between businesses and residents that exempted downtown establishments that already held 2 a.m. licenses.

The Annapolis Planning Commission sided with Hammond and downtown residents March 6 when it unanimously voted not to support Fox's proposal.

The commission found that instead of making individual changes to the study, the city should revisit it as a whole. Nineteen of 20 residents who testified at the hearing asked the commission to vote down the proposal.

Fox said he remains optimistic and believes his resolution has a chance at being passed by the council.

Vincent Quinlan, owner of the Castlebay Irish Pub on Main Street, which brews its own beer, said he supports Fox's resolution, saying the current plan is unfair and hurts his business.

Quinlan said his pub sells less beer because it is forced to close by midnight. The best time to sell beer is between 11:30 p.m. and 2 a.m., he said - before then people are just eating dinner.

He said the ban also costs him business because his patrons start leaving around 11 p.m. to get a good seat at bars that are open later.

"So I really have a license that only goes to 11 p.m.," Quinlan said.

Hammond rejected such arguments. Paying for brewery equipment should not give Quinlan greater privileges than other businesses, she said.

"Everybody makes an investment ... and it doesn't give them any more right to zoning changes," she said.

Quinlan said he does not feel he should have special privileges but said that "there should be some parity here, you know, a level playing field."

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