The Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners heard community groups’ request for a reconsideration of its decision—a first for a citizen’s group, which are typically told to appeal the decision in court—before the docket of cases last Thursday, but ultimately denied it.
Four residents’ groups in Fells Point (Fells Point Residents Association, Douglass Place Community Association, Fell’s Point Community Organization, and Fell’s Prospect Community Association) filed a request for consideration of the board’s March decision to allow the transfer of a BD-7 tavern license to Bristol Liquors, located at 507 S. Broadway in Fell’s Point.
The groups asked for a reconsideration—a strategy used frequently by liquor establishments’ attorneys—because the four of them had opposed the transfer because of the Broadway corridors’ vagrancy problems, and it was granted to the licensees, Drhuba Raj Onta and Daoub Faddoul anyway.
At the hearing, Stephan Fogleman, then-chairman, presented the rationale for board’s 2-1 split decision. Commissioners Elizabeth Smith and Harvey Jones voted to support the transfer. Fogleman, who opposed, said the transfer was granted because Bristol had no violations on the board’s radar. He noted that the licensee agreed to sell his current liquor store license—when he does sell it—outside of Fell’s Point.
“That way,”Fogleman said, there will be no net gain in licenses [for Fells Point].”
At the hearing last Thursday, Smith, now acting chair, said: “There is something about the case that bothers the board…and the board has some concerns,” but did not elaborate.
The groups had asked in writing for a reconsideration for multiple reasons, including because, they claim, 30 establishments are licensed to sell alcohol after midnight and on Sunday within a four-block radius of Bristol Liquors, and they claim the tavern will provide no unique services to the community.
Their request also asserted that the tavern was not the appropriate tavern/lounge design, according to their interpretation of state liquor laws.
Prior to the hearing, Abe Hurdle, attorney for the licensees, had objected to the reconsideration in writing to the board.
His objection included several counterpoints. The following three concern the tavern’s uniqueness of service, Bristol’s design being a “tavern”, and the tavern’s impact on the community.
Hurdle’s letter addressed the groups’ argument that there are 30 other establishments nearby and that Bristol would offer no unique services.
“…Uniqueness is not defined by a number. Unique, by definition, means something that is not typical. This tavern will have 5 barstools, a few televisions, and will be open seven days a week. The Groups present no evidence that there are any other five stool taverns in the area. Bristol Liquors will be unique to the Fells Point area in what it offers.”
Regarding the groups’ objection to the tavern’s design, Hurdle wrote:
“The Board is required to determine if the design submitted is a tavern prior to approval. If The Board determines the location is not a tavern/lounge, the board would be prohibited from granting the transfer. As The Board granted the transfer, it is clear that a determination was made by The Board, who has final authority on the matter, that the diagram submitted does conform to a ‘tavern/lounge operation’…”
As for the tavern’s impact on the community, Hurdle wrote that the groups ” presented no evidence at the [first] hearing that liquor establishments cause any harm to the neighboring area. No facts, no reports, nothing concrete. Councilman Kraft did write a letter indicating ‘there is no need, no demand, and absolutely no justification for the granting of this transfer.’ No evidence was submitted to support these allegations.”
At the Thursday hearing, Hurdle verbally objected to the request as well.
“They [the group members] refused to meet or negotiate. We would have negotiated terms,” he told the commissioners, adding that if the board allowed a reconsideration, the groups would get “two bites at the apple.”
In a followup conversation, Hurdle told the Guide that he “was in touch with FPCO via email. They previously voted to oppose any transfer of a BD-7 into Fell’s Point. My goal in reaching out to them was to garner support, and I was given authority to negotiate on behalf of my client. Unfortunately, no opportunity was presented.”
At the hearing, Smith asked Joanne Masopust, president of FPCO, who stood before the board, if there was an opportunity for the licensee to sign an MOU.
“No. Not with our group,” Masopust replied. An MOU, or memorandum of understanding, is a document signed between two parties. In the case of community associations and liquor establishments, it often adds some restrictions to a license holder’s license or hours.
Whether an MOU was possible with any of the other three associations was not discussed.
At the end of the 10-minute hearing, Smith pointed out to the attendees that two commissioners who voted to support the transfer—herself and Jones—were still there.
“The board has not found where we erred,” she said. “Request denied.”
More than 20 Fell’s Point-area residents attending the hearing, including Seth Barkman and Michael Wright.
After the hearing, the two, who are opening a furniture store in at 1605-07 Eastern Ave. this summer, said they came out to the reconsideration hearing to lend their support and also gain a sense of how the board feels about community groups.
“It’s frustrating that the community as a whole has spoken with such a large voice and board doesn’t find it remotely relevant in this case,” said Barkman. “Maybe we need a blanket boycott of these kinds of businesses.”
Wright, who was recounting his experiences with drunks passed out near their future storefront, agreed.
“The stores can pick their clientele: the vagrants or us,” he said.
“We’re encouraging BYOB restaurants in the area to direct customers to liquor stores that don’t cater to vagrants.”
Masopust commented, “There’s definitely something to be said for that.”
She said liquor stores that don’t sell cheap alcohol do a good business in Fells Point and cited Broadway Liquors as an example.
Broadway Liquors owner Jan Jandasek said when he bought the store, located at 628-630 S. Broadway, 35 years ago, it was a different kind of business.
“It needed cleaning up. It was all Thunderbird and Night Train, but I didn’t want that kind of business. There’s no cheap stuff here, no cheap vodka, no 40-ounce beers,” he said of his current establishment.
“I want a civilized store where people can be comfortable and shop.”
Regarding Fells Point’s vagrants, he said: “I can make money the clean way or the dirty way. I don’t sell what they want. I don’t have those problems.”
by Danielle Sweeney