The Howard County Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board voted 5-0 to not approve a license for the proposed liquor store on the second floor of the newly opened Columbia Wegmans at a four hour public hearing on Monday night.
Multiple members of the board, including Anne Santos, James McQuarrie, Harry Evans and Lisa Lopez Friedman, said there wasn't a public need for the 10,000 square foot proposed liquor store, a requirement to get a license.
"Too much is shared, it's under the same building," said Board Chair William Neault. "I'm just not happy with this at all."
J. Steven Wise, a lawyer for the opposition who was representing King's Contrivance Liquors and Glenwood Wine and Spirits, told the board in his closing statements there was eight liquor stores within 1.5 miles of Wegmans, on 8855 McGaw Road, and 13 stores within 3 miles.
"Based on that knowledge," said Wise, "this application would not be necessary for public need."
In a tearful statement to the approximately 80 people in attendance at the hearing, board member Harry Evans said he was taking a stand for Columbia's village centers.
"I will not put the failure of the village centers on my shoulders," said Evans. "For that reason I cannot give this wings."
This was the third hearing for the application. The other two totaled more than 10 hours together. This one featured the testimony of Christopher O'Donnell, husband of Wegmans' president Colleen Wegman and the potential 90 percent owner of the store.
O'Donnell testified that the store would not be affiliated with Wegmans and his lawyer, Thomas Meachum, said Wegmans brings in so much additional traffic that it increased the need for more suppliers in the area.
"I think there is a need," said Meachum, after the hearing. "What was unfortunate was that there wasn't a way to generate the appearance of more supporters."
"Almost every board member mentioned the support was not shown at the hearing, I understand that," said Meachum. "I might discount the opposition a little bit since they were all store owners. I didn't hear one citizen say they didn't want it."
Meachum said it was too early to know if his clients would appeal the decision.
After the decision, the owners O'Donnell and Ellicott City lawyer Mike Smith, who would own 10 percent of the store, would not comment on the decision.
"I have to catch a plane," said O'Donnell.
Wise said it would be up to consumers to decide if this is a victory for them.
"I think it's a victory for the small businesses that constitute the alcoholic beverage industry and all of their employees," said Wise. "We've built up a system here in Maryland where you look at any grocery store and either to the left or the right you'll see a small package store owned by a local business, run with local employees, and that's a value to the community."
During the hearing O'Donnell said his business would be unique because it would provide a large variety of wines, liquor and beer that smaller liquor stores didn't have the space or funds to supply.
However, board member Anne Santos said she was uncomfortable that the 10 percent owner, Mike Smith, had no experience running a liquor store. Smith was slated to be the day-to-day manager, as O'Donnell lives in Rochester, New York, according to O'Donnell's testimony.
"[Smith's] not ready to be the owner of this business," said Santos.
After the hearing, a group of liquor store owners were outside discussing the decision.
"We are very, very happy," said Amrish Vyas, who said he owns a liquor store in Anne Arundel county. Vyas said if this liquor store was approved, Giant and Safeway would also enter the liquor market in a similar fashion.
"It's a precedent this defeats, it's good for all small retailers," said Vyas.
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