Harford Liquor Board supports change in residency rules

Posted February 27, 2014 - Harford County's Liquor Control Board has thrown its support behind legislation pending before the Maryland General Assembly that would alter the requirements for holding an alcoholic beverage license in Harford County.

Joseph Snee, a Bel Air lawyer who represents several alcoholic beverage establishments in Harford County, asked the liquor board members to support the legislation during an appearance at the board's Feb. 19 meeting.

Introduced by Del. Mary-Dulany James, HB-1176 would require licensees on Class B restaurant or Class D tavern licenses in Harford to be Maryland residents for a minimum of one year, removing the requirement that a licensee also reside in the county. Other class licensees would still have to be Harford residents during the time they hold the license.

The legislation would also eliminate some ownership requirements for licensees.

"You still have a responsible person from the state of Maryland who doesn't necessarily have a stake or membership," Snee told the board. "You still have the two most important things, people carding to avoid underage consumption and people to ensure there is no over-consumption."

The existing law is antiquated, he said, written in 1983 when the thinking was "people should know the customers coming into their buildings."

"In the legal world, we figure out ways around this stuff all the time," added Snee, who represents a number of establishments licensed to sell alcohol in the county.

Board member Vernon Gauss said the current ownership rules mandate the licensee have some financial interest in the business and, therefore, responsibility in adhering to the liquor laws.

"Ownership does not transfer to conscientiousness," Snee replied.

Albert J.A. Young, another local lawyer with a large alcoholic beverage license practice, echoed Snee's comments. Young said an establishment could lose out on a good licensee who doesn't live in Harford.

"You could have a Baltimore County resident, top notch, a crackerjack, who's perfect for the position, but because he lives a mile over the line, you can't use him," he said. "Instead you have to get someone from Darlington who lives 20 miles away."

The board at first held off taking a stand in support of the bill, which is scheduled for a hearing at 1 p.m. March 3 before the House of Delegates Economic Matters Committee. There were questions about how liquor inspectors would verify the addresses of licensees outside the county.

Having gotten what it considered a satisfactory answer, the board sent a letter of support for the bill to Snee Wednesday afternoon, Board Administrator Judi Powell said.

Other liquor board business

In other business at its Feb. 19 meeting, the liquor board canceled the license of Gino's Burgers & Chicken in Aberdeen. A representative of the business said he wants to have the license by May 1, which Powell said means the application would have to be in by today (Friday) so it can be processed in time.

Bushmill Tavern in Abingdon, the former Longshots, was awaiting an inspection by the Harford County Health Department to get its use and occupancy permit so the board can issue its permanent liquor license.

Powell said the licensees picked up the license Monday, held a soft opening Tuesday and were scheduled to open to the public Wednesday.

Outside events for St. Patrick's Day were approved for Bill Bateman's Bistro in Havre de Grace on March 15 and Main Street Oyster House in Bel Air March 15, 16 and 17. The board postponed approving an outside serving request for Looney's to get some questions answered. Outdoor serving requests were also approved for March 14 and 15 at the Bayou in Havre de Grace.

One day beer and wine licenses were approved for Aberdeen Rotary Club, March 8; Havre de Grace Main Street, Feb. 21; Rockfield Foundation, Feb. 27; Harford Artists Association, March 8; Bel Air Rotary Club, March 14; and St. Patrick Church, March 16.

Charles Callaghan, of Pizza Hut in Forest Hill, told the board about recent renovations to the restaurant. A wall was extended about four feet, he said, to accommodate a new fryer. The project was 90 percent complete, and Callaghan said he hoped to have it entirely done by March 6.

He also said the corporation, Belle Inc., which also operates the Havre de Grace Pizza Hut, will soon be submitting plans to remodel that restaurant.