A group of Clarksville residents trying to block a liquor store from opening in the small shopping center near their upscale neighborhood is finding out just how difficult a task that can be.
The residents' large detached homes are just off the east side of Route 108 across the road from the parish center building at St. Louis Roman Catholic Church. The main entry road for the decade-old, 70-home development called Clarks Glen North is Wake Forest Road, and the homes lining it look northward, directly facing the shopping center across a narrow strip of grass and mature pine trees.
Residents say they fear a seven-day-a-week liquor store/deli planned for the two-story center will draw neighborhood teens and prompt vandalism and loitering.
"We are concerned that the liquor store would be too close to our houses," said Ramjay Vatsan, president of the Clarks Glen North Homeowners Association.
But the group lost a bid Monday evening to use Howard County's unusual two-tiered system of liquor regulation to get a new hearing for their complaints when three County Council members, acting as the county's senior liquor board, unanimously rejected the plea to reopen the case on advice from a county lawyer.
Allison Owens, an assistant county solicitor, advised board members Calvin Ball, Jen Terrasa and Chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty that the appointed Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board, which hears nearly all the county's liquor cases, properly handled the case and did everything by the book.
"There was substantial evidence to support the board's decision" to grant the license, she said, and there appeared no legal basis for a rehearing. "Your board should not second-guess the judgment of the [appointed] liquor board."
That was the same position outlined by the store operators' attorney, Katherine L. Taylor, who said that barring some glaring error, the senior liquor board should not second-guess the earlier decision to grant a license for a store.
The next level of appeal is Circuit Court, but Vatsan said members of his group aren't sure they will take their case that far.
"I'm definitely empathetic to any neighborhood that thinks an entity would negatively impact them," said Ball, but he could not see a reason to reopen the case. Terrasa and Sigaty agreed. Sigaty pointed out that the appointed board had listened to all the evidence, considered it carefully but came to a decision the residents simply don't agree with. She said residents can hold the center to its approved site plan, however, by asking for inspections by the county.
Dr. David Benedek, a protesting resident, said he felt the lower board was given erroneous facts, but council members said the case wasn't necessarily decided on the facts in dispute. Other residents were angry.
"The whole thing is a mockery," said Ramesh Reddy, who attended the session in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City. "Somebody wants to make money on kids."
The appointed board had held two nights of hearings for a combined six hours in November and December on the application for a liquor store license for the 108 Deli and Liquor store in the new Clarksville Plaza Shopping center tucked into a narrow space in the 12400 block of Clarksville Pike.
The board granted the license Jan. 25, despite protests from owners of four nearby liquor stores, one of whom said there are 15 liquor licenses within six miles and others who said there is no need since business is down.
Applicants David Park and Phyllis Remesch had said they both plan to work full time at the 2,558-square-foot store, which would operate from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays. They used former Howard County liquor inspector Martin Johnson as a consultant and said they will ask for identification from anyone under age 40 and will not sell single-drink miniatures.
Remesch told the board she circulated a questionnaire in the general area that found 71 percent of residents had no objection, and Johnson testified that the questionnaire included St. Louis Church, which also operates a school.
But Vatsan said the survey covered too broad an area and that residents in his neighborhood bordering the center do object. He said he and the others believe the store will harm the neighborhood.