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Liquor Issues

by Fern Shen10:05 amJun 25, 20140

Before the Liquor Board, Patterson Park serves up a classic concoction

Decision is expected tomorrow from the Liquor Board’s new leadership on a much-disputed license transfer for El Palacio Latino

Above: The building at the corner of Fairmount and Potomac streets where an applicant wants to transfer a liquor license.

A liquor license transfer for a property – zoned residential – where there’s been no bar for years.

A packed hearing room dominated by opponents from the neighborhood.

Warnings about the ill effects of a tavern from the pastor who runs a nearby substance abuse recovery center.

A licensee who says his son would be welcome as a patron at the establishment (proposed at 35 North Potomac St. near Patterson Park) even though he has drug and weapons convictions.

The license transfer pending for El Palacio Latino – which the newly reconstituted Liquor Board will rule on tomorrow – seems like a classic cocktail combining many of the troubled agency’s hot issues and core conflicts, judging by the lengthy recap of the nearly four-hour hearing last month, as described in the Community Law Center’s “Booze News” blog.

The cherry on top of this concoction was the forceful and indignant defense of the licensee (in this case Alfredo Vasquez) by Liquor Board fixture Melvin J. Kodenski, Vasquez’ attorney.

Why should the commissioners accept proffered signatures of support for the transfer when many came, as opponents pointed out, from addresses outside the neighborhood? (With several appearing to be in the same handwriting.)

These were “prospective customers,” Kodenski said, according to Law Center blogger Rebecca Lundberg Witt’s account. “As far as I know, anyone can be a customer!”

From Charles Village to Patapsco Flea Market

Witt’s detailed post on the El Palacio hearing is worth reading in advance of the commissioners’ ruling.

It’s just one item on an unusually lengthy docket that includes matters involving Good Fellas Lounge on Belair Road, Donna’s on St. Paul Street, Clifton Pleasure Club on Grindon Avenue and a host of others.

Also: The Patapsco Flea Market on Annapolis Road wants a new Class B beer, wine and liquor arena license. And the Oxford Tavern on West North Avenue wants a BD7 tavern license transfer!

Behind every one of these cases there is, no doubt, a story and, in El Palacio Latino, Witt seems to have found a good one.

A staff attorney at the Community Law Center, Witt spells out the legal reasoning behind her conclusion that the transfer would violate zoning code, and why the application violates the Liquor Board rule requiring the licensee to be the person who actually owns and operates the bar. (Vasquez’ brother, Luis Vasquez, will operate the bar.)

Do I Need to Know That?

But the post also features telling back-and-forth dialogue, like this exchange between the licensee and H. David Leibensperger, president of the Patterson Park Neighborhood Association.

Leibensperger asked Mr. Vasquez, “What is the name of the neighborhood [where 35 N. Potomac is located]?” Mr. Vasquez responded, “Baltimore City, Highlandtown area.”

Leibensperger asked, “Do you know the name of the community group that is opposing [the bar]?” He replied, “Patterson Park something.”

The attorney asked, “Do you know when and where the PPNA meets?” Mr. Vasquez replied, “Everywhere.”

Under further questioning, Mr. Vasquez did not know the web address of PPNA’s website or the mailing address of the group and could not name any of the activities of the community association. (Mr. Vasquez responded, regarding PPNA’s activities, “Do I need to know that?”)

He did not know the names of any of the schools in the area. Leibensperger asked, “You said earlier that you would join the community association; how will you do this?”

Mr. Vasquez replied, “Somewhere along the line, I would ask somebody how to do this.”

Community Testimony, Licensee’s Closing

Also interesting is the testimony Witt includes from the community.

One witness was Njinga Jenkins, a 22-year resident of the neighborhood, who said previous incarnations of the bar were disruptive.

“Children were exposed to alcohol, cursing, and drugs planted in windowsills and mailboxes. Bar patrons broke windows in the nearby church. A man was beaten. When she complained about the bar, patrons broke the windows of her house and car and slashed her car tires,” Jenkins said, according to Witt’s account.

“Jenkins also testified that the neighborhood has improved recently (since the bar has been closed), that the police helped get rid of drug dealers.”

Pastor Mark Parker, of Breath of God Lutheran Church, testified that he was familiar with the establishment at 105 South Conkling St., Mr. Vasquez’s former place of employment and the location from which the license is being transferred.

“Pastor Parker testified to high levels of loitering and significant drug trafficking,” Witt said.

She also summed up Kodenski’s closing remarks this way:

Mr. Kodenski argued that the testimony about Luis’s son was unfair, that the community was placing the sins of the son on the father, adding, “he didn’t say that he would come in there to do anything he wants. He didn’t say he was going to work there or own there.” Mr. Kodenski said that it was “outrageous that [PPNA] would talk about [Luis’s son’s] criminal background.”

He argued that any negative impact from the prospective bar is “all speculation. It’s how you use it.”

He added that he thinks it’s disrespectful when the Board calls the opposition “the community” since there was at least one neighborhood resident present who was in support of the bar. He added, “You can’t tell people who want to drink that they can’t drink,” stating that it all comes down to “personal responsibility.”

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