- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The Charles County liquor board recommended prohibiting liquor stores within 1,000 feet of accredited schools and halving the number of liquor licenses available in Waldorf and White Plains during an annual public hearing Wednesday on local legislative proposals.
County agencies and community groups made 11 proposals before the county commissioners and the Annapolis delegation, including a couple from the Board of License Commissioners spurred by the controversial approval of a liquor store near Westlake High School.
The liquor board also proposed requiring additional signs advertising a pending liquor license if its future location is not easily accessible to the public and splitting licenses for sales on premises into subcategories for restaurants, bars, taverns, nightclubs, hotels and stadiums, each with its own criteria and fee structure.
The school zone and public notice proposals are directly inspired by the local uproar over a liquor store set to open 506 feet from Westlake High in a new shopping center on Middletown Road, at its intersection with Smallwood Drive.
State law currently prohibits liquor stores from being within 500 feet of Charles County schools. In addition, pending liquor licenses must be advertised in a local newspaper and on the future premises.
With those requirements met, the liquor board approved the license for Cheers liquor store May 6.
But local residents were unaware of the hearing and quickly formed the Westlake Advocates group in protest of the board’s decision.
“There was no opposition at the hearing. There was no opposition at the hearing because the community was unaware,” said attorney Linda C. Carter, who has been hired by the Westlake Advocates.
The group plans to petition the board for a rehearing, claiming they were sealed off from the Cheers premises by an active construction site and could not see the sign advertising the May 6 hearing.
Dorchester resident and Westlake Advocates member Ivan Sherard cited national studies and federal statistics indicating that crime increases around liquor stores.
“You’re adding an unsafe condition,” he said.
Del. Peter F. Murphy (D-Charles) asked liquor board members Wayne Magoon and Thomasina Coates for the rationale behind making the school zone 1,000 feet, as opposed to 1,200 or 1,500.
“Frankly, we’ve had a little pressure lately,” Magoon said, drawing a few laughs, before saying the proposal was drafted in conjunction with the Westlake Advocates.
The 1,000-foot zone would cover only state-accredited schools, but Commissioner Reuben B. Collins II (D) asked whether additional protection could be provided for day care centers. In addition to the high school, Cheers also would be within walking distance of a nearby day care.
Magoon said the 500-foot requirement used to include churches, but that the law was changed when churches started to lease space in strip malls, a popular location for liquor stores.
If the zone were applied to day care centers, many of which also are located in strip malls, “You may never put another [liquor store] anywhere,” Magoon said.
Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) asked whether a 1,500-foot zone was “too onerous.” Magoon said such a restriction would keep responsible proprietors such as Nick’s of Clinton, located near Thomas Stone High School in Waldorf, from opening in the future.
Wilson also suggested requiring that written notice be sent to properties contiguous to or in the immediate proximity of a pending liquor store, but Magoon again voiced caution.
“How many administrative things can you put on this? ... Where do you put a limit on it?” he asked.
The liquor board also proposed increasing the number of residents per liquor store license in the county’s 6th Election District — which spans Waldorf and White Plains — from 1,350 to 2,700. Despite what already seems like a long list of liquor stores in Waldorf, its high population means there are still 18 available licenses in the district, Magoon said.
“There are, in our opinion, too many in Waldorf already,” he said.
The commissioners and delegation agreed.
“I think there are an ample number of liquor stores in our community right now, particularly in the 6th District,” Collins said. “I don’t know how anyone could make a credible argument for more.”
Other legislative proposals included:
•From the Charles County Board of Education, increasing the salaries of its chairman and members by $2,000 to $7,000 and $6,000, respectively, raising the members’ annual expense stipends from $600 to $800, and providing a $1,000 scholarship for the board’s student member.
•From the Charles County Sheriff’s Office, prohibiting a person from extorting sexual images from another, and excluding correctional officers in probationary status from the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights.
•From the Southern Maryland Carousel Group, a $250,000 bond bill to buy a platform — on which the carousel animals will sit — for a long-planned carousel in Hughesville.
•From the Charles County Department of Economic Development, establishing a property tax credit for businesses that create jobs via new construction.
•From the Charles County Department of Planning and Growth Management, an analysis of public facility impact fees for new development.
•From the Charles County Department of Community Services, implementing regulations on taxicabs, which are currently unregulated in the county.