Brooke Lierman, Bill Romani, and Liam Davis said they won’t support legislation to block tavern and liquor store licenses from coming into Fell’s Point from outside the neighborhood.
The three candidates for the House of Delegates seat in the 46th District attended a Fells Point Community Organization meeting last week, and all agreed that such legislation would be potentially detrimental to the Fells Point business climate.
The question was asked by Joanne Masopust, president of FPCO—which voted to oppose the transfer of bar and liquor store licenses (but not restaurant licenses) coming into Fell’s Point from outside of the neighborhood last year.
It was one of several questions posed to the candidates by FPCO members.
Davis, a community liaison for City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young’s office who lives in Greektown, said each proposed bar or tavern should be appraised on its own merits.
“Otherwise, you’re stagnating business, and that’s the last thing you want to do is discourage businesses from coming in,” he said.
Fell’s Point resident and civil rights attorney Lierman told the group she wouldn’t support such legislation either.
“Never ever is a long time, and absolutes can be dangerous. We should look at each business individually,“ she said.
Romani, who lives in South Baltimore and works for a nonprofit, said: “We need to be careful about restricting the movement of new licenses into particular precincts as a strategy to limit big or nuisance bars.“
He explained that there is already a legislative moratorium on new liquor licenses in Federal Hill, but since it took effect, he claims, consolidations and expansions have created a 35-percent increase in tavern capacity.
“That has, in effect, circumvented the very intent of the legislation,” he said. “And the liquor licenses that do become available are priced at a premium ($200,000 or more, he said) due to the high demand and limited supply.”
The result, he said, is that the cost of the licenses makes it difficult to open a new establishment that doesn’t either rely on a lot of seats or a high percentage of alcohol sales.
In a later interview, Romani added that there is still a demand in Federal Hill for smaller “true” restaurants, and the neighborhood has a number of commercial vacancies that could house them.
The problem, he said, is that potential tenants—who may very well have been embraced by the neighborhood, he said—have passed on Federal Hill because they were not be able to obtain or afford liquor licenses.
Romani added that rather than supporting a moratorium on any licenses moving into a neighborhood or precinct, he would support ways to place limitations on the types or sizes of licenses to help ensure that the neighborhood is protected from an added nuisance, while keeping it in a position to promote economic development.
One FPCO member asked the candidates how they felt about the Red Line, particularly in light of its construction and how it would impact the community.
“Businesses on Boston St. have a right to be concerned about the Red Line construction’s impact,“ said Lierman. “But in the long run, they will thrive.”
Lierman added that the 14-mile, Bayview-to-Woodlawn transit system would help relieve congestion and traffic that is already a problem on Boston St.
“Boston St. is like a highway and getting worse,” she said, adding that when the Red Line is complete, Boston St. will be green, have a bike lane, and be much calmer.
Romani said he is an advocate of the Red Line, which is on track to begin construction in 2015. He said the train would bring new business to the area “but we have to take care of the businesses that are already there.”
Davis, who sees the $2.6 billion Red Line as an important part of the development of the Greektown and Bayview neighborhoods, and has said in the past that the transit system is vital if Baltimore wants to retain young people, conceded that merchants’ concerns about the Red Line impacting business are real.
“There will be challenges on Boston St., but we have to take the long view,” said Davis.
by Danielle Sweeney