- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A citizens group formed in opposition to the opening of a liquor store near Westlake High School plans to petition the Charles County liquor board for a rehearing on the store’s liquor license.
An attorney hired by the Westlake Advocates told the county commissioners last week that the group’s request will center on language in state law requiring liquor license applicants in Charles County to post notice of their license hearing “in a conspicuous place” on their premises.
Residents do not dispute that the owners of Cheers liquor store posted notice in their storefront, but claim they were sealed off from seeing the sign by an active construction site outside the store’s location, 506 feet from the high school in a new shopping center at the intersection of Smallwood Drive and Middletown Road.
“The public couldn’t see the sign that was in the window because they couldn’t gain access to the shopping center, and it couldn’t be seen from the street,” attorney Linda C. Carter said during the commissioners’ Oct. 1 meeting. “… Our argument before the liquor board is obviously going to be that if you can’t see it, it’s not conspicuous.”
Set to open Dec. 1, the store sits just outside the required 500-foot range from any school but within easy walking distance to both Westlake and a nearby day care center.
The Westlake Advocates formed in reaction to the liquor board’s May 6 approval of the Cheers liquor license.
During the hearing, several liquor board members expressed concerns about the store’s proximity to the school, but have since said they were required to approve the license since it met legal muster and no residents testified in opposition. County Attorney Barbara Holtz has previously stated that the liquor board’s decision was legally sound, because with “only evidence in support of the application to consider, it had no choice but to grant the application.”
Representing the Westlake Advocates, attorney Linda C. Carter also told the commissioners that the liquor board’s decision was correct.
“Unfortunately, based on the information that the liquor board had before it when it considered this application, I think it did the right thing,” she said. “Our position, however, is that there was inadequate notice, which prevented the Westlake community from being able to be present at that hearing.”
Citing declining newspaper readership, Carter also said that the additional requirement that notice of Charles County liquor license applications be published in a local newspaper, “we do not believe is sufficient in today’s world.”
Carter also recommended several changes to the county’s liquor license policies, including the creation of an email list that residents can sign up for to receive notice of pending applications. She also proposed requiring the applicants to list schools within a half-mile of their location and the liquor board to notify those schools via email. Holtz suggested the Charles County Board of Education also be alerted to pending licenses.
In addition, Carter proposed increasing the 500-foot limit to 1,000 feet for new off-sale licenses.
“We don’t want to put people out of business,” she said. “We just do not want new businesses being 506 or 501 feet from a high school.”
In case a construction site keeps residents from being able to approach a future liquor store location, Carter said the law should require the owners to post notice both on their premises and near the street so passersby can see it.
Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) thanked Carter for a “measured approach to your requests.”
“There’s nothing in your five bullet points that appear to be unreasonable or something that cannot be obtained,” he added.
Holtz presented the commissioners with several policy changes the liquor board was proposing, several of which resembled Carter’s recommendations.
“Hopefully at the end of the day everybody will reach a compromise with which nobody is happy,” Carter said.