Baltimore city is, by law, not supposed to grant a new or transferred liquor license to an establishment within 300 feet of a church or school.
Should be a simple matter of measuring to figure out if the rule applies, right?
Well, somehow, it wasn’t so simple at the October 24 hearing of the Board of Liquor License Commissioners, according to Becky Lundberg Witt’s account of the meeting on her Booze News blog for the Community Law Center.
The case involved an application to transfer a liquor license from 300 S. Oldham to 3638 S. Hanover St., for an entity trading as “Brooklyn House.”
First, Liquor Board Inspector Joann Martin testified that she was not sure what the address of the church was. (It was Strong Tower Christian Center, 100 E. Patapsco St.)
Then, it turned out, Martin and a colleague, Inspector John Howard, did measure the distance – but they testified they checked it four times and got “four very different numbers” each time, Witt wrote.
As the Crow Flies
The two inspectors came up with the following measurements: 345 feet, 294 feet, 341 feet and 311 feet. (Meanwhile, the president of Citizens for a Better Brooklyn said she got 301 feet.)
Why was this so hard for the inspectors?
Martin explained that “there is a busy intersection between the prospective liquor establishment and the church building, so it was difficult to get a proper reading,” Witt wrote. She noted that Howard “chimed in to say that he had to measure around parked cars, not particularly in a straight line.”
Here, we’ll simply quote verbatim from Witt’s blog, which also notes comments from Liquor Board Chairman Stephan W. Fogleman and Melvin Kodenski, the applicant’s attorney:
Chairman Fogleman, confused, asked the inspectors, isn’t the normal Liquor Board standard supposed to be point to point, as the crow flies?
Inspector Martin reiterated that there were cars in the way and a lot of traffic in the intersection. She pointed out that inspectors are not surveyors.
Chairman Fogleman ordered that the measurements be re-taken. He told the inspectors that, if traffic is a problem, they need to do the measurement early or late or work with law enforcement to close down the street.
Mr. Kodenski chimed in to say, “I’m not going to tell you how they do it in Baltimore County. . . but I will. They laser it.” (They use a laser distance measurement tool.)
Objection to List of Supporters
There were all kinds of substantive disputes during this hearing, in which the community was represented by a Community Law Center attorney, Susan Hughes.
When Kodenski submitted into evidence a list of 19 name of people who were present in support of the transfer, Hughes objected, saying that the people present from the list live in Baltimore County.
Chairman Fogleman said he was “impressed that Ms. Hughes knew Baltimore so well that she could tell so easily and quickly where the addresses were,” Witt wrote.
“Ms. Hughes responded that she has lived in Baltimore all of her life.”
The board voted unanimously to postpone the matter.
As for issues from the highly-critical audit by the state (Booze News was begun in part to see that the board institutes recommended reforms), Witt said the case of the church and the bar may have raised some.
The problem with the measurement could have been due to “lack of formal written policies” (Finding No. 1 from the audit) or “with training or with something else altogether,” she wrote.
That’s not to say there were no clear places where the board ran afoul of the audit. Consider Witt’s notes about another matter before the board that day, a transfer request for 807 S. Broadway, for an entity trading as “Rye.” (The auditors found multiple examples of applications being approved despite missing information.)
Here’s what Witt wrote of this transfer request, which the liquor board approved:
A check through the file showed that the applicant had left at least one question blank (asking the applicant how long he has lived at his current address).
The Board’s own summary sheet which summarizes the case before the Board for the Commissioners stated that ‘The applicant interview form is incomplete; the full time operator was not designated. The Board Commissioners did not ask the applicant about the full time operator of the business.
On the application form, in response to the question, “Who will be the full time operator of the establishment?” the applicant had typed, “See management agreement.” However, there was no “management agreement” in the file.
The board voted unanimously to approve the request. Witt noted that there was a memorandum of understanding with the community.