Promoting economic development through the use of liquor licenses is not a new idea. County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, however, is hoping a task force will make recommendations that will ease county use and attract new restaurants.
Kamenetz announced Thursday the formation of a 12-member task force to examine potential changes in existing liquor laws.
"By every indication individuals are eating out more and more as part of a modern lifestyle, and vibrant, economically viable restaurants are a critical component of economic development," Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said. "The ability of Baltimore County to respond to the needs of both the small independent restaurant owner as well as the more well known national chains is a very real economic development issue."
The county, in a statement Thursday, cited a survey by business consulting firm AlixPartners, to show "that 57% of Americans surveyed will eat out at least once a week in 2011, an increase of 8% over the previous year."
A survey by Rasmussen Reports appears to support the AlixPartners study.
The January 2011 poll found that 43 percent of those surveyed said they would eat out less than they did just six months earlier. That statistic dropped 14 points from a similar poll done in 2008.
The task force will be co-chaired by Dan Gundersen, executive director of the county's Department of Economic Development, and Mike Mohler, chief administrator of the county liquor board.
In a statement released Thursday, Kamenetz said he is asking the panel to examine liquor license laws around the state. He said he would limit the review to the use of licenses for restaurants rather than for bars.
"There is no need to look at the expansion of bar or package goods stores," Kamenetz said in his statement. "I am only interested in having this group take a look at the need for liquor licenses to support the expansion of the restaurant sector of Baltimore County's economy."
Liquor laws and regulation of licenses are governed by the state and powerful lobbying efforts from the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association.
Kamenetz was critical of the association during last year's county executive campaign. He blamed the association for attempting to block the use of licenses for economic development during a candidates forum last June at Goucher College.
"I also think that in order to attract quality businesses and restaurants we need to focus on a change in the liquor laws which I think are inhibiting our ability to attract quality restaurants," Kamenetz said, adding that Joseph Bartenfelder, his Democratic primary opponent at the time, was being supported by the licensed beverage association.
"I think they're the ones fighting our ability to use liquor licenses for economic development opportunities."
The number of liquor licenses in any area of the county is determined solely by population. County law allows for one liquor store license for every 2,500 people and one restaurant or bar license for every 4,000 people.
There are already some exceptions in the law that create additional licenses for bars or restaurants in large shopping centers, hotels and mixed use developments.
Liquor licenses have frequently been used to spur or augment development in the last 20 years.
In the early 1990s, the county transferred several licenses into the Owings Mills area for a number of restaurants near the Owings Mills Town Center.
Licenses have also been transferred into the Hunt Valley area and The Quarry in Owings Mills.
County Executive Jim Smith had state law changed to allow the transfer of 10 liquor licenses from the Essex-Middle River area into Towson. A number of those licenses remain unused, according to Jack Milani, co-chairman of the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association.
"It's been a gradual shift from some areas that have an abundance of licenses to areas that need them," Milani said.
Appointees to the task force include:
- Dan Gundersen, Executive Director, Baltimore County Department of Economic Development
- Mike Mohler, Chief Administrator, Baltimore County Liquor Board
- Arthur Adler, Caves Valleys Partners
- Teal Cary, Executive Director, Catonsville Chamber of Commerce
- Edward Gilliss, Chair of the Baltimore County Planning Board
- Jack Milani, Legislative Co-Chair of the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association
- David Mister, Attorney, Mister, Winter & Bartlett, LLC
- Damian O'Doherty, KO Public Affairs
- Harold Reid, Executive Director, Liberty Road Business Association
- Jose Rivas, Realtor, Central Realty
- Keith Scott, president and CEO, Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce
- Melvin Thompson, Senior Vice-President, Restaurant Association of Maryland
Note, this story has been updated to correct the title for Keith Scott, which was incorrect in a county press release.