OPINION: Wegmans Liquor License Should Be Denied

Letter to the Editor by Russ Swatek of Long Reach.


The Columbia Wegmans' liquor license application should be denied for: 1) violating state law, 2) violating county zoning, 3) eroding the business viability of the neighboring Columbia Villages, and 4) inconsistency with the General Plan.

  1)  MD state law requires retail liquor operations to be separate from grocery and chain stores.  Wegmans is obviously both, and their application is a blatant attempt to circumvent the existing law.  Liquor retailers statewide are rightfully incensed that the rules under which their businesses were started and grew are about to be swept away.

  2)  The Wegmans property's M-1 (light manufacturing) zoning was expanded to include a food operation, not a liquor operation.  Requiring acquisition of the proper zoning amendment would allow greater public scrutiny of the requested change.

  3)  The Wilde Lake Village (re-)development controversy a couple years ago led the County Council to encourage all Columbia Villages to develop a Village Center Community Plan to guide future (re-)development.  Of the three Villages neighboring Wegmans Oakland Mills already has a Master Plan and Long Reach has developed a Master Plan presentation to be used in crafting their formal document.  Although allowing for mixed-use, both call for an emphasis on the commercial and recreational components, supporting thriving businesses (both have liquor stores), and becoming more walkable and bikeable.  Granting a Wegmans liquor license would divert business that should go to the Village Centers.

  4)  The PlanHoward 2030 document, soon to be adopted as the Howard County General Plan, states "Compact, mixed-use, walkable design is central to achieving sustainable communties.  Access and connectivity for transit users, cyclist, and pedestrians are key." County actions allowing service placement in the community (e.g. granting a liquor license) should conform with the General Plan.  The Wegmans location has limited walkability and no cyclist provisions.  The only sidewalk to the area extends north along the west side of Snowden River Parkway, and the closest walkable residence is 1.3 miles away north of MD-175.

But Wegmans has already developed their liquor store space with shelving in place and separate loading docks.  The Wegmans food operation has raised docks with special doors to handle tractor trailers with chilled cargo.  The liquor store 'tenant' has standard docks for off-loading dry cargo.  Wegmans must have assurances from county officials that their liquor license application will be granted despite the problems stated above.  That is bothersome.


Russ Swatek

Long Reach

Columbia, MD

Matt M June 15, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Opinion: All of these reasons are poppycock. Change the laws, loosen the lid on liquor licenses. Good grief! - Why is it the job of the liquor board to drive business to village centers? - Why do we even have a ridiculous zoning called "Light Manufacturing" that has anything to do with groceries? And if it does..how can selling liquor be any different? - Local businesses need to get with the times and compete. If you can't do that...it's time to go the way of the newspapers and buggy whip manufacturers. - I don't know what this PlanHoward document is...but are you really expecting that people are going to ride their bikes or walk up to the grocery store, but not a liquor store? Or are you frustrated that Wegman's even exists because it in itself will steal business from the magical village centers and we can't ride our bikes to it? There is the bus stop that is walkable within 30 feet of the entrance to Wegman's. Some in our community want to add a new bus stop on the Wegman's property. Do you have any legitimate arguments?
MG42 June 15, 2012 at 04:10 PM
This is possibly the dumbest letter I have ever read. Not surprising it's from a community blowhard who seems to be opposed to all development of any kind (remember him from the Plaza Tower lawsuits?). Point by point refutation: 1. The Maryland laws are stupid, illogical, archaic and need to be changed at once. 2. Liquor is food. What is a good dinner without it? 3. Village centers are a 40 year old concept that died 39 years ago. Additionally, the 66% of the county that is not Columbia could care less about them. 4. HoCo is a suburban community. Walkablility will not happen.
Lilah June 15, 2012 at 04:13 PM
I agree with your first comment. Everyone has to visit a grocery store. Liquor sales should be separated.
Joe Squash June 15, 2012 at 04:40 PM
This is absurd. We are backwards already, change the law to allow at least Beer & Wine sales in grocery stores. I can see if they dont want to sell liquor in them. These places should be a one stop shop. Some people have there heads shoved up their donkeys.
Matt M June 15, 2012 at 04:59 PM
The liquor store in question here is not part of Wegman's. It's a separate business.
Mari June 15, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Frankly, I don't think most people want to walk or bike to a liquor store if they're puchasing more than 1 or 3 bottles of wine or alcohol. They're usually glass, which makes them fragile, and heavy to carry in any quantity. Support the villages all you want, but that is a poor, illogical argument. More importantly, the letter writer insinuates that most of the shoppers at Wegman's are going to be local folks who would buy their liquor at this store and not the local village shops. I can assure him that the VAST majority of shoppers will not be from the villages and will never bother to venture into the villages to shop for anything. We will be from all over Howard County, western Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County, probably Baltimore City, etc. I live in Catonsville and you have no idea how excited I am that I won't need to go to Hunt Valley on Saturday afternoon to shop. I know several people who feel the same way and I'm sure there are others as well. It would be very convenient to purchase wine to match the meal(s) I'm preparing with food from Wegman's. I still don't understand why Maryland feels that liquor and groceries can't be combined. Wine and beer are sold in grocery stores in Virginia, as well as in most other states. A smaller number of states also allow full liquor sales in grocery stores. Why is Maryland so controlling? I know, it's Maryland...
Danny June 15, 2012 at 05:19 PM
who walks to a grocery store? maybe in manhattan. not in columbia -- not even in bethesda, silver spring, arlington, and most of DC, where grocery stores provide free parking! how can you carry heavy, perishable goods home by foot? if you refuse to take a bus or drive, then, sorry, wegmans isn't for you. welcome to the suburbs,
Kenneth A. Stevens June 15, 2012 at 08:36 PM
To me (as a non-drinker of alcoholic beverages) and without regard to existing law, there are only two fair ways to deal with this kind of situation. One is to allow liquor licenses to anyone who wants one. Why did the existing licensees get their licenses and why should they be protected from competition? The other fair alternative is to allow sale of alcohol only in non-profit government-owned and operated facilities. That option would seem to better protect against underage drinking. Any other option than these two is, in my opinion, unfair and cannot be made fair. In any other option, government (the dispenser of liquor licenses) either has been or will be choosing favorites.
Vic June 16, 2012 at 01:08 PM
The guy ralph smith does not know jack about the liquor business nor is he going to put up any capital.....its a wegmans operation from ground up. After requesting to see Chris O donnell at the 2nd hearing, he still did not show up. Simply showing how they dont Respect howard county liquor board. And there were still more than 100 people turning up against this wegmans license. I guess they dont count because they are part of countys existing community? Or may not as busy or rich as the Wegmans.
Matt M June 16, 2012 at 02:12 PM
I see your point about fairness here. Personally, I'd prefer a motivated private citizen running things over the government. I don't think underage drinking happens much because of retailers as it does because of older buying for younger.
Vic June 22, 2012 at 04:19 PM
WOW they already have decorated the store for selling liquor, beer and wine. Interesting......This license application should have been denied at the first hearing.... based on zoning, State Laws .. the structure of the LLC formation 90% to 10%. Which liquor board should demand the proof of funds from Ralph Smith to the tune of inventory over $500,000.Rent for the first year $320,000. Furniture, fixtures, coolers close to $200,000.In terms of lease NOT being drafted accurately and separting both operations. LEASE IS vague in many aspects, very general terms as though its part of Wegmans itself.
MG42 June 22, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Don't worry Vic, I'm sure your liquor store will be able to compete.


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