- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
More than 100 Westlake area residents have banded together in hopes of preventing the imminent opening of a liquor store in a new shopping center just 506 feet away from Westlake High School.
County law says that liquor stores cannot be within 500 feet of the closest wall of any school.
Calling themselves the Westlake Advocates, the group’s members got together after meeting at a June 25 public forum during which 20 community residents spoke out against the Cheers liquor store, which is set to open Aug. 1 in a shopping center to the immediate west of Coachman’s Landing, a small neighborhood of bungalow apartments, on Middleton Road near its intersection with Smallwood Drive in Waldorf. The store would be within easy walking distance of the high school and a nearby day care center.
“Just the thought of having a liquor store located so close to the high school is just really not in step with the value system of our society, and if we just sit back and allow this to happen, what does it say about Waldorf residents?” asked Angela Sherard, a Westlake Advocates member who lives in the Dorchester neighborhood. “Who would think to put a school and liquor store so close to each other when underage drinking is such a problem for this nation?”
Sherard said the group plans to reach out to the store’s owners to include them in the group’s discussions.
The Westlake Advocates settled on their name at a meeting Saturday, and as of press time Thursday had scheduled and invited the county commissioners to another meeting in the school’s gymnasium Thursday evening.
Group spokeswoman Yvonne Jones, a Westlake Village resident whose daughter attends Westlake High, said membership has been increasing steadily and is around 125 people.
“We just have a limited time here. Pretty soon that liquor store will be stocking its shelves,” Jones said. “We’d like to keep them from ordering the inventory to stock their shelves.”
Cheers’ owners received approval of their liquor license May 9 from the county liquor board, whose members told the county commissioners during a July 10 meeting that the license application met all legal requirements.
No one testified at the May 9 liquor board meeting on the liquor license application except for Cheers’ owners and their attorney.
“Because the board had only evidence in support of the application to consider, it had no choice but to grant the application,” County Attorney Barbara Holtz said at the July 10 meeting.
Jones, who is retiring from a career in law enforcement, said that certain carryout restaurants and liquor stores encourage late-night loitering that can lead to criminal activity.
“We don’t want the ingredients for that kind of activity near our high school, [but] all of that is null and void when inconsiderate people who are running for office and know how to reach out to us approve something without letting us have our say,” Jones said. “We want them all to understand that we are upset, and we especially want public safety and the sheriff’s office to understand that this could invite criminal activity.”
Charles County commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) called the situation “not ideal, but I think at this stage in the game, I as a county commissioner have no legal authority to overturn what the liquor board decided to do,” adding that she supported the owners’ right to open their store.
“The board of commissioners has not taken any action, and it’s my sense that they likely will not,” Kelly said. “The board’s position, and certainly our legal counsel’s position, is that everything was done legally and properly.”
In Charles County, notice of a pending liquor license is required to be published for two weeks prior to its hearing, and advertised for 20 days in the applicant’s storefront, but Westlake residents have cried foul, stating that the requirements were not enough to ensure the community was properly notified.
Kelly said that other counties, including Prince George’s County, require more evident public notice of new development.
“I believe this is long overdue in Charles County. People have to be notified before the bulldozers are there and on the property,” she said.