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Liquor Issues

by Fern Shen10:22 amJul 9, 20130

From Belvedere Square to South Baltimore, more liquor license sagas

Above: Liquor License Board member Elizabeth Smith and Chairman Stephan Fogleman.

Media outlets were pretty much riveted to the Crossbar controversy at the Baltimore Liquor Board’s June 27th meeting.

Arguing that it would worsen the vandalism, vomiting and other nuisances increasingly spilling over onto their front steps from the Cross Street bar zone, Federal Hill residents protested the proposal to license an establishment that would expand into four storefronts and have a late-night open air German-themed beer garden.

After three hours of testimony, the board unanimously voted “nein.”

Watchdog attorney Christina Schoppert Devereux, in her latest weekly Booze News blog post, caught lots of interesting angles in that three-hour debacle – features that other observers may have missed or left out, such as the motion for denial by the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association because the license the applicants were seeking to transfer and expand had actually expired after the business shut its doors in July 2009. (Licenses are supposedly invalid after 180 days of inactivity.)

The applicant’s counter-argument: basically, that since the board had repeatedly green-lighted the license (via an April 2011 transfer and an April 2013 renewal), it had given it tacit approval and so it should be deemed unexpired.

In the end, Chairman Stephan Fogleman dismissed the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association’s motion.

License is “Un-revoked”

But Devereux found plenty of other interesting features in the lower-profile cases the board considered that day in their earlier 1-2 pm docket.

Just one example is the license associated with 291 S. Pulaski Street. Seeking a hardship extension, the licensee and his creditor had, it would seem, a tough sell, given the Carrollton Ridge establishment’s history.

“In December 2012, the Liquor Board unanimously revoked this license, following a shooting at the establishment and a Liquor Board finding that the licensee was guilty of violating 2 provisions of state law and 6 Liquor Board rules,” Devereux wrote.

But it didn’t stay revoked long.

Then, Devereux wrote, came “a letter six days later from the licensee’s attorney (the same attorney who appeared at this hearing) asking that the Board ‘reconsider’ its decision because his clients would ‘suffer irreparable financial harm and injury through the loss in value of the license.’”

At that point, Devereux wrote, “It appears that the Board un-revoked the license.” At the latest meeting, the hardship extension was granted.

The Liquor Board Reconsiders

This gets to a trouble-spot highlighted in the audit that has been Devereux’s guiding text since she began blogging about the board – its penchant for “reconsideration.”

They have no formal policy for reconsideration, according to the auditors and state law says the proper forum for appealing a liquor board decision is in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

“State law does not make any mention of ‘reconsiderations,’ in which the Board reverses a decision it announced at a public hearing.” Devereux writes, adding:

“In this case, the licensee was only able to request and receive a hardship extension because the Liquor Board reversed its public decision to revoke the license after the public hearing occurred.”

Could the Crossbar proposal, or some variant using the same license or address, quietly rise from the ashes via “reconsideration?” Neighborhood associations – and The Brew – will be watching with interest.

“In Other News” Department:

• As usual, there were some applications with which Devereux found no problematic issues raised – and their main value may just be in providing useful intelligence for city foodies.

One such approval granted was for a liquor license and outdoor seating for Spike Gjerde’s new diner and canning operation at 510 E. Belvedere Ave., the site of the old Crush. The application listed the trade name as “Mason Diner,” but the applicants corrected this during the hearing: it will be “Mason and Diner.” (Spike and Amy Gjerde, of Woodberry Kitchen, will be consulting on the project but do not have a financial interest in it, Devereux reports.)

• We’ll be asking Chairman Fogleman this week what the plans are to resolve apparent problems with the Horseshoe Casino application, which does not appear to meet the requirements of its license.

As Devereux reported – and The Brew confirmed – the applicants for the new Baltimore gambling casino on Russell Street didn’t follow the rules in the liquor license application that received board approval at the June 20 meeting.

Three Baltimore residents are supposed to provide a legal document saying they’ve known the applicant for at least two years. The licensee used two lawyers and a paralegal from his attorney’s law firm who acknowledged they actually had not known applicant Chad Barnhill that long. One of them, the paralegal, said in the application she had just met Barnhill.

The Brew has asked Fogleman, basically, if the new casino’s liquor license is not valid because required documentation was not provided, what will he do about it?

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