The number of liquor store licenses could be limited for the first time in Howard County, if a bill on the county's General Assembly delegation's list is approved this year.
The measure is one of two bills that could change the way some alcoholic beverages are sold in the county, though the bulk of the other 11 local bills are merely requests for state bond money for a variety of county projects. The other liquor bill would allow restaurants to sell bottled wine to customers eating a meal who want to take some home - a practice now illegal.
The 11 state legislators who represent the county in Annapolis want to hear from the public on this issue and any other local bills, at a 7:30 p.m. public hearing Nov. 24 at school board headquarters.
The bill limiting the number of new licenses for liquor stores, though not for restaurants, was requested by the county's Licensed Beverage Association, whose members are always worried about close competition. A recently approved license for a new store in a shopping center on U.S. 40 near St. John's Lane drew protests from residents and nearby store owners, though the license was granted.
Del. Warren E. Miller, a Republican, and house delegation chairman Guy Guzzone, a Democrat, are sponsoring the bill, but both said they wanted to spark a public discussion and haven't settled on exact provisions.
"It's mostly to give the association the chance to make a case," Guzzone said. Miller said he's had complaints about some areas where there is "an overwhelming number of licenses, one on top of another."
Angela Beltram, a former County Council member who protested the St. John's liquor store, said there are seven other stores within two miles of the new one. She said the proposed law might be a good idea, though she hasn't studied it. "Somebody has to set a limit," she said.
Miller's initial proposal is to limit the number of store licenses to one per 2,600 people in each of the county's five planning districts, though he said that could change. The delegation might prefer a bill enabling the county to set the standards for control via a local law, Miller said.
The limit of one license per 2,600 people, Guzzone said, reflects current reality in Elkridge, the section of the county with the highest concentration of liquor stores per capita. If a measure is enacted, it would give the county liquor board authority it doesn't have now to deny a license.
Other local bills include a repeat request from state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman to give a property tax break to homeowners who get public water but not sewer service. County government opposed that idea last year, and it was killed. The county is also asking for $250,000 to help the Columbia Association renovate Symphony Woods, $500,000 to help develop Troy Regional Park, and $100,000 in two chunks to help improve Alpha Ridge Park and to help the Howard Astronomical League of Central Maryland design and build an observatory in Marriottsville.
Fielding a call
County Executive Ken Ulman is being hailed for saving hundreds of high school junior varsity football players from a washout of games scheduled for Oct. 28 by responding to a parent's plea and helping to arrange county Recreation and Parks artificial turf fields for the games.
Ulman's intervention closely follows his recent celebration with the long-suffering residents of a steep unpaved portion of Henryton Road in Marriottsville, who just three months after appealing to him at his annual town hall meeting in July are enjoying a smooth, paved entry road in place of their rutted, stony, half-mile track, though they are paying two-thirds of the cost.
The football move, Ulman said, is no political gimmick.
"The broader picture is breaking down arbitrary boundaries between the school system and the county," he said.
Jeff Plotkin, whose freshman son Zach plays center on the Atholton High JV team, said the kids were crushed to find their long-awaited game with River Hill canceled for fear of damaging the rain-soaked, muddy surface. All the JV games in the county were canceled that day.
But Plotkin appealed via e-mail to Ulman, whom he knows casually because their young daughters attend the same school. Ulman got county Recreation and Parks director Gary J. Arthur to offer the use of three artificial turf fields at Rockburn and Cedar Lane parks. After a few hours of negotiation over schedules, transportation and officiating with school system athletic director Michael Williams, the games were played over the next two days.
"I've never seen kids so happy," Plotkin wrote in an e-mail. "Although a relatively minor issue in the scheme of things," he said, he wanted to let people know that Ulman and county officials went "out of their way" to help. The score was less cheerful for the Plotkins, though: River Hill 28, Atholton 0.
With Republican Robert L. Flanagan considering a District 1 County Council run next year, Democratic incumbent councilwoman Courtney Watson held a fundraiser that drew about 150 people Oct. 30, including at least one GOP admirer.
Former District 1 candidate Christopher J. Merdon, the Republican nominee for county executive in 2006, attended, though he said he's not stirring the political pot.
"Courtney is a friend and a neighbor," said Merdon, who had also briefly attended a Republican rally for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. on Oct. 27. Flanagan is a former Howard state delegate and was Maryland secretary of transportation under Ehrlich.
Watson said she was pleased with what she said was "our best fundraiser ever," held in a large private home in Ellicott City. Ulman and a group of other elected Democrats attended, though Watson said she spoke about her "passion for serving the people" and what she's accomplished so far, not about politics.