Takoma Park to discuss alcohol laws
Historically dry city considers off-sale beer and wine stores
Opinions are split over the potential benefits and pitfalls to opening beer and wine shops in the historically dry city of Takoma Park, a topic that will soon be addressed in a public hearing.
Supporters of the change have rallied behind the idea that allowing the new shops would not only eliminate some of the long-vacant storefronts in the city's business districts, but could also improve the city's income. Opponents have likewise cited the potential deterioration of the city's quality of life and an increased demand on police resources if the laws are loosened.
Originally founded as a dry city in 1883, mostly due to its large founding Seventh-day Adventist community, Takoma Park petitioned the state to allow city restaurants to sell beer and wine on-site in the 1980s. Off-sale stores, where residents can purchase beer and wine to drink at home, are still banned in the city.
Councilman Terry Seamens (Ward 4) was the only council member to outright oppose even holding a public hearing on the issue. He mentioned that even if one trustworthy business was allowed to open a beer and wine store in the city, the license would stay with that building even if the owner sold it to a less reputable business.
"There's no guarantee; we don't get to approve who ends up with that license in the end, the county does," he said in an interview Thursday. "We have succeeded very long without [these stores], and I think there are very short-term gains that won't outweigh the long-term risks."
While it's true that the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control regulates all alcohol sales and licensing in the county, every license issued by the county is reviewed annually, according to department division chief and spokeswoman Kathie Durbin.
"The community doesn't really lose a lot of its control in the process," she said. "The original license-holder could transfer the license, but [the new owner] would still have to go before a hearing and be approved."
Before approving such a license for a business, the department places a sign at the site announcing the owner's application for 30 days before holding a public hearing, which members of the public are free to testify at, to determine whether or not to approve the license, Durbin said.
Crime and the possible effects such stores would have on the city's quality of life were also addressed by the council during its weekly meeting Jan. 11. While City Police Chief Ronald Ricucci stated that, so far, no problems have been reported at any of the restaurants most recently approved for on-site sale of alcohol, public intoxication has been a concern in the past in certain areas of the city.
"Our biggest problem has been with the day laborers out near that store on New Hampshire [Avenue], and we've cracked down on that," he said, adding that beer and wine stores would likely cause even less trouble for city police than businesses that sell on-site. "In 26 years of working in the county, we've had problems with restaurants and bars [but] beer and wine stores? Not really."
Roz Grigsby, the executive director of the Old Takoma Business Association, originally brought the issue before the council in a meeting last June, saying she has heard plenty of interest in opening the discussion. She and Ward 1 Councilman Josh Wright believe the shops could not only fill some of the vacant storefronts in old town, but also contribute to drawing much-needed traffic to the area.
"I definitely have gotten a lot of input from people on it; the vast, vast majority of them in favor of [opening the shops]," Wright said when reached for comment Friday. "I think it's a long-term strategic decision; it would be good to fill a vacancy in one of those shops."
Takoma Park's status as a dry city is set forth in Maryland state law, meaning that, while the county will ultimately control who receives the license, the city will have to lobby the state legislature to make the necessary changes to its laws before the county can even begin accepting license applications.
Considering the budgetary issues and other measures facing the legislature and all levels of local government Seamens questioned whether the economy would not have improved (or worsened beyond repair) by the time all the necessary laws were in place.
"I certainly hope that our business community is able to recover long before that change is made," he said. "[But] the business community might not survive long enough to see the change."
Despite these arguments, Wright and other remain optimistic regarding the help such stores could bring to the local economy.
"It may be true that by the time we get something passed there's not one vacancy in the area, but at some point again, it might be one year, it might be five years, but ... it's nice to have that option when a vacancy does open up," he said.
The council will hold its public hearing on the issue at an as yet undisclosed date and location.