- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A recently formed group of Westlake area residents opposed to the location of a liquor store near Westlake High School have earned support from the Charles County commissioners and now intend to win over the county’s lawmakers.
The Westlake Advocates already have held two meetings at the school, with another scheduled for Thursday evening, and showed up in force Monday night at commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II’s (D) monthly town hall meeting.
The group, which organizers estimate has more than 100 members, got together following a commissioners regular public forum June 25 during which 20 community residents spoke against the Cheers liquor store, which is set to open in August in a new shopping center to the immediate west of Coachman’s Landing, on Middletown Road near its intersection with Smallwood Drive in Waldorf.
The store has been measured at 506 feet from the high school, just outside the 500-foot requirement, and it also is within walking distance of the Lakeside Child Care Center, which sits across Smallwood Drive.
Several members plan to attend a meeting tonight, July 31, of the Charles County delegation to the state General Assembly.
Collins and commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) both expressed their support of the group at its Thursday meeting.
Kelly said she agreed with the group that the legally required notice was inadequate and that 506 feet from the school “is a little close for comfort.”
But if the store’s owners had followed the proper procedures in applying for their license, which it appears they did, “what I can’t tell you is whether there’s anything we can do to change it,” Kelly said.
Collins said “the entire board” opposed the store’s location.
“I’ve probably learned more about liquor board licensing within the last month than I have in my entire life,” said Collins, an attorney.
“It appears that they followed the letter of the law,” he continued. “But as many of you know, certainly as people who just recently saw the decision in the Trayvon Martin trial, sometimes what may appear to be the actual letter of the law is not reasonable in the eyes of most individuals, and I think this is one of those issues where the total outcome doesn’t make sense at all.”
Collins also raised concern with the overall number of liquor licenses in Charles County. In Waldorf alone, 38 licenses already have been granted to liquor stores, and 19 more are available, according to county figures.
“From my perspective, we have an ample number of liquor stores in this community,” he said. “This is an issue related to basic community standards.”
In Charles County, notice of a pending liquor license is required to be published for two weeks in a local newspaper prior to its hearing, and advertised for 20 days in the applicant’s storefront, but Westlake residents have said the requirements were not enough to ensure the community was properly notified.
“This is really 19th century. Because readership for newspapers is going down,” Dorchester resident Ivan Sherard said, “[more] people rely on their smartphones to get their information than from reading the newspaper.”
Several residents said there was an active construction site around the store during the time a sign would have appeared in its front window, and that anyone who even noticed a sign wouldn’t have been able to get close enough to read it.
“I feel like more effort goes into reaching out at campaign time than with something like this,” Westlake Village resident Yvonne Jones said.
At the same time, the controversy has shown that residents need to get more involved and be aware of what is happening in their community, Sherard said.
“This has been a wakeup call for a lot of us,” he added.
A rising senior at Westlake said the liquor store would only tempt students who already face peer pressure to use drugs and drink alcohol. She also noted that many students already walk over to the shopping center and its convenience store during breaks in the school day.
Sherard said that if the liquor store averages 15 customers a day, and only one of every 200 purchases at the store is illegal, “a reasonable figure,” that would still constitute 27 illegal purchases every year.
“When human systems are involved, there are failures. There’s no way around it,” he said.
Kelly took interest in whether the Lakeside Child Care Center, which sits across Smallwood Drive from the shopping center, could be considered a school.
“We are very concerned about having a liquor store next to our establishment,” said Lakeside board Chairman Leroy Sampson.