Booze News: Distilled in Room 215

A blog about the Baltimore City Liquor Board

What happened at the Liquor Board on June 4, 2015.

Written by Becky Witt

11:00 a.m. cases

I. New Applications, Transfers and amendments:

Applicants Richard O’Keefe, Jr. & J. Hollis Albert
Business Name Peabody Heights Brewery, LLC
Trading As Peabody Heights Brewery at Old Oriole Park
Address 401 E. 30th Street
Type of License Class “D” Beer License
Reason for hearing Application for a new Brewery license with requests for live entertainment and outdoor table service
Hearing notes

Mr. Hollis Albert and Mr. Richard O’Keefe appeared before the Board, unrepresented by an attorney. Mr. Albert explained to the commissioners that he had submitted a previous application for a new Class D license, but there had been a change in ownership. The brewery currently has a Class 5 license from the state and is asking to add a Class D brewery license so that people can order beer in their tasting room. Currently, the brewery’s tasting room can’t be open every day; they have to have an event permit to open to the public. Mr. Albert and Mr. O’Keefe have negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding with the Abell Improvement Association, the Charles Village Civic Association, and the Harwood Community Association.

Regarding the live entertainment, Mr. Albert explained that the building is a 50,000 square foot facility that used to make Snapple, RC Cola and Vitamin Water. The live entertainment will be held either inside the facility or in the parking lot. Outdoor tables may be located in the parking lot. He explained, under questioning from Commissioner Jones that the Memorandum of Understanding restricts the operating hours and the hours of live entertainment, to address community concerns. He said that the building is “out of the residential neighborhood.” Commissioner Moore disagreed with that statement, since she lives close by; there are businesses, residences, and a school nearby to the building. Albert clarified that the building is shaped like an L and the live entertainment would be inside the L, pointing toward Greenmount Avenue. The brewery has had events in the past and has never had a complaint from a neighbor. Commissioner Moore expressed further concern that the letter of support from the Abell Improvement Association did not mention live entertainment. Albert reiterated that the AIA had negotiated and signed an agreement that outlined all of the restrictions for live entertainment, so they are aware of the brewery’s application.

Zoning Abell
Neighborhood M-1-2
Area demographics 44% White, 35% Black, 3% 2 or more races, 13% Asian, 5% Hispanic ethnicity; 11% households have children under age 18; median household income: $30,130.79; 14% households live below the poverty line
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; yes.
Location of entity’s principal office Baltimore, MD
Attorney for licensee None
# in support 2
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 0
# of inspectors/police officers 0
Result of hearing Approved
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision None
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed None
Applicant John Reusing
Business Name Bad Decisions, Inc.
Trading As Bad Decisions
Address 1928 Fleet Street
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Request to add outdoor table service
Hearing notes

Former Liquor Board Chairman Mr. Stephan Fogleman represented the applicant. Fogleman submitted the BMZA resolution approving the tables, a petition in support, a seating diagram, and some recent press clippings about the bar. The community association had negotiated six conditions on their support of the outdoor table service request, which became restrictions listed in the BMZA resolution.

Zoning B-1-2
Neighborhood Fells Point
Area demographics 53% White, 32% Black, 8% Asian, 3% 2 or more races; 4% Hispanic ethnicity; 6% households have children under age 18; Median Household Income: $38,331; 5.5 % households live below poverty line.
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; no.
Location of entity’s principal office Baltimore, MD
Attorney for licensee Former Liquor Board Chairman Stephan Fogleman
# in support 1
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 0
# of inspectors/police officers 0
Result of hearing Approved
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision None
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed

The corporate entity for this license was not in good standing, and this was not raised by the commissioners.

Applicant Richard Smith
Business Name Eddie Robinson’s Gorsuch House, Inc.
Trading As Doug’s Sportsbar and Restaurant
Address 5307 Belair Road
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Application to transfer ownership
Hearing notes

Mr. Richard Smith appeared before the commissioners, unrepresented, without the transferring licensee. Smith had not been aware of the administrative order which requires licensees to be present at transfer hearings. He brought a character witness with him, however. Smith explained that he has run Big Bad Wolf’s House of Barbeque on Harford Road and plans to introduce a food menu at Doug’s. He testified about his restaurant experience and his plans for alcohol management.

Zoning B-2-2
Neighborhood Frankford
Area demographics 15% White, 79% Black, 2% Asian; 2% Hispanic ethnicity; 35% households have children under age 18; 15% households below poverty line; median household income: $39,144.11
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; yes.
Location of entity’s principal office Baltimore, MD
Attorney for licensee None
# in support 2
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 0
# of inspectors/police officers 0
Result of hearing Approved, subject to licensee’s appearance at a second, future hearing
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision None
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed None
Applicant Nidia Sierra
Business Name Bernia, Inc.
Trading As Honey’s Lounge
Address 1722‐24 Gough Street
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Request to add interior wall
Hearing notes

Mr. Shawn Harby represented Ms. Nidia Sierra. He submitted a floor plan of the interior wall, which had already been built without permission from the Liquor Board, in violation of Liquor Board Rule 4.20(a), which states that “[n]o licensee shall make any installation or alteration on a licensed premises … without prior approval of the Board.” The licensee also turned out to be in violation of Liquor Board Rule 4.20(b), which requires that a licensee obtain a permit before making alterations. Commissioner Jones asked whether the licensee had added the wall under a permit from the city. Harby responded that a permit was not required, because it was not a load-bearing wall. Jones disagreed and said that the licensee should have obtained a permit for that work. The licensee was cited for having signs in the windows of the building, which they were not allowed to have, and which, according to Harby, they have since removed.

Zoning R-8
Neighborhood Upper Fells Point
Area demographics 53% White, 32% Black, 8% Asian, 3% 2 or more races; 4% Hispanic ethnicity; 6% households have children under age 18; Median Household Income: $38,331; 5.5 % households live below poverty line.
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; no.
Location of entity’s principal office Baltimore, MD
Attorney for licensee Mr. Shawn Harby
# in support 2
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 0
# of inspectors/police officers 0
Result of hearing Approved
Vote tally 2-1 (Jones dissenting)
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision

Commissioner Moore changed her vote several times but finally decided to vote yes to the alteration as long as the proper permit was obtained. Executive Secretary Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth told the commissioners that the Board could follow up to ensure that the licensee obtained the required permits.

Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed

The licensee had violated two different rules in erecting a wall without Liquor Board or Housing Department approval. Instead of bringing the licensee in for a violation hearing, however, the Board scheduled the licensee for a hearing on an application that (1) she did not qualify for, since she had not applied for the required permit and (2) that she did not need, since she had already done the work without permission.

II. Hardship Extension Requests

Applicant Diana Coyle
Business Name Canton Crossing Wine & Spirits, LLC
Trading As Canton Crossing Wine & Spirits
Address 3831 Boston Street
Type of License Class “D” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Request for a hardship extension under the provisions of Article 2B Section 10‐504(d)
Hearing notes

Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth, Executive Secretary of the Liquor Board, announced that the hearing was canceled, because the licensee had already transferred her license to another party.

Zoning B-2-2
Neighborhood Canton Industrial Area
Area demographics 86% White, 4% Black, 3% Asian; 5% Hispanic ethnicity; 9% households have children under age 18; median household income: $82,130
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; yes.
Location of entity’s principal office Baltimore, MD
Attorney for licensee N/A
# in support N/A
Attorney for community N/A
# of protestants N/A
# of inspectors/police officers N/A
Result of hearing N/A
Vote tally N/A
Portions of state law cited in decision N/A
Other reasons given for decision N/A
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed N/A
Applicant Shirley Barner
Business Name None provided in docket
Trading As Shirley’s Honey Hole
Address 2300 E. Oliver Street
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Request for a hardship extension under the provisions of Article 2B Section 10‐504(d)
Hearing notes

The Executive Secretary announced that the hearing would be postponed and rescheduled.

Zoning R-8
Neighborhood Broadway East
Area demographics 1% White, 96% Black, 0% Asian, 1% 2 or more races; 1% Hispanic ethnicity; 35% of households have children under age 18; Median Household Income: $26,431.68; 21% households live below poverty line.
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? None provided in docket
Location of entity’s principal office None provided in docket
Attorney for licensee N/A
# in support N/A
Attorney for community N/A
# of protestants N/A
# of inspectors/police officers N/A
Result of hearing N/A
Vote tally N/A
Portions of state law cited in decision N/A
Other reasons given for decision N/A
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed N/A
DISCLAIMER Community Law Center staff attorney and Booze News blogger Becky Lundberg Witt represented one of the community associations involved in this case.
Applicant Meshack Kangethe
Business Name Secured Creditor
Trading As N/A
Address 4515‐17 York Road
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Request for a hardship extension under the provisions of Article 2B Section 10‐504(d)
Hearing notes

Mr. Kodenski began by saying that there is no dispute as to the timeline of what has happened with the license. The license was transferred into the name of the secured creditor in October 2013, and the secured creditor filed a hardship extension request in December 2014. Kodenski argued that the 180-day rule in Article 2B section 10-504(d) should not apply to secured creditors; in support of this argument, he submitted a letter from Baltimore County attorney David Mister as well as a memorandum that Kodenski had written years earlier on the subject. Kodenski’s argument is that, since the secured creditor cannot legally operate the business, the law cannot hold the 180-day rule against him, because he can never “close[] the business or cease[] alcoholic beverages business operations.”

Mr. Chriss, for the Guilford Association, pointed out that there is no express provision of Article 2B that makes any special rules for secured creditors. He “f[ound] it strange that the law could be informally amended by letters … .” Someone in the legislature could have revised the statute to make it clear that the law should not apply to secured creditors. Chriss said that whatever rights that the licensee has in a license pass on to the secured creditor, and the creditor should be required to follow the same requirements in the statute. Ms. Witt echoed Mr. Chriss’s arguments, pointing out that section 10-504(d)(3) says that licensees “or other appropriate interested parties” may make hardship extension requests, so the statute does apply to other parties besides licensees. Witt also mentioned that the license was not renewed for 2015 by the secured creditor, and asked that the Board deny the hardship extension request also based on the community’s past concerns with the licensee at this location. Councilman Bill Henry told the Board members that there were community members in the room who could testify to former problems at Wozi’s, if needed.

Commissioner Moore asked for more specifics on the timeline of the license; Witt responded that the license had been transferred to the secured creditor in October 2013 and that he had requested a hardship extension in December 2014. The 180 days had run out in April 2014, eight months before the hardship extension request was filed. As of the transfer date, October 23, 2013, the secured creditor could have applied to become a licensee himself (if he had found a partner who satisfied the Baltimore City residence rule) or could have transferred his interest in the license to another party.

Zoning B-3-2
Neighborhood Wilson Park
Area demographics 5% White, 91% Black, 0% Asian; 1% Hispanic ethnicity; 34% households have children under age 18; 18% households below poverty line; median household income: $38,396.20
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? None provided in docket
Location of entity’s principal office None provided in docket
Attorney for secured creditor Mr. Melvin Kodenski
# in support 1
Attorney for community Ms. Becky Lundberg Witt represented the York Road Partnership and Mr. Timothy Chriss represented the Guilford Association
# of protestants 1
# of inspectors/police officers 0
Result of hearing Denied
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision

Chairman Ward said that he did not find Mr. Mister’s letters to be particularly compelling. He said that it is clear to him that the legislators intended that licenses expire after 180 days of inactivity; otherwise, licenses could be kept alive for years. Commissioner Jones agreed; he said that the secured creditor has a responsibility to keep his license alive. Commissioner Moore also agreed. She said that the secured creditor should have been highly motivated to get the value out of his investment, and he failed to do so by waiting over 180 days after the transfer.

Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed

Previous BLLC administrations had apparently informally adopted the opinion of a Baltimore County liquor license attorney on the interpretation of Article 2B section 10-504(d). This informal interpretation meant that secured creditors were allowed unlimited time to hold a liquor license, which the current board has ruled is against the policy of Article 2B as a whole and specifically section 10-504.

III. Violations:

Applicant Ginger Cornejo
Business Name Ginger, Inc.
Trading As Mustang Inn
Address 3203 Eastern Avenue
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing

Violation of Rule 3.12: Public Welfare – May 15, 2015 – At approximately 11:49 am, the Baltimore Police Department was called with a complaint regarding loud noise and angry patron outside of the Mustang Inn. Police arrived at 12:10 PM and asked the patron to leave. Video of the incident was submitted to the Liquor Board on May 16, 2015 with information from the adjacent neighbors. The licensed establishment failed to control the conduct of the patrons and caused a public nuisance.

Hearing notes

Mr. Melvin Kodenski represented the licensee, who was present with several community members and business owners in her favor. Executive Secretary Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth assisted the next door neighbors, Mark and Dawn Mellett, in bringing their case.

Bailey-Hedgepeth told the commissioners that the agency had received a series of emails and 311 calls for service from Mr. and Mrs. Mellett. On May 15, the police were called to the Mustang Inn by the neighbors, and the bar and the neighbors both retrieved security camera footage for the incident. Bailey-Hedgepeth played the Melletts’ footage first, which showed that two Mustang Inn patrons were standing in front of Ameritax. A loud buzzer sounded, which was operated manually by Mrs. Mellett from the 2nd floor of Ameritax. One of the patrons became irate and started to yell at Mr. Mellett and use profane language. Both parties called the police.

Mr. Mark Mellett testified that he and his wife cannot enjoy life and run their business while this bar operates. They live above their office and have spent ten years dealing with people fighting and using foul language. Mellett said that he had to call 911 in order to have the police escort his client outside. Patrons in the past have tried to break into their building and have broken windows. Under cross-examination, Mellett said that no one was arrested during the incident on May 15, and he did not interact with Ms. Cornejo. He testified that the bar was there when he and his wife moved in.

Mrs. Dawn Mellett testified next; she said that she called the bar to complain about the men standing in front of her building. Mrs. Mellett said that the bartender told her that she was frightened of the men also and that Mellett should call the police.

Shelton Jones watched both sets of videos and testified to what he observed from those videos. He said that, in the Mustang Inn video, the bartender, “Miss Connie,” told the men who were going outside to smoke, that they should stand to the left, in front of the bar, not in front of the Ameritax building. The men didn’t listen to Miss Connie and said that they can stand on the sidewalk if they want to. Mrs. Mellett then sounded the alarm, which made them jump and become irate. According to Jones, Mellett’s video cuts at this point, but the man on the sidewalk says that Mellett called him the “n-word,” a racial slur, which made him very angry. The man and Mr. Mellett exchanged some angry words, and the police showed up to calm the situation down. Jones said that Ms. Cornejo keeps a log book of all of the incidents between the bar and the Melletts, including any police or Liquor Board inspector visit. Jones concluded, “it’s a back and forth situation.” The Melletts have an alarm system, which they turn on at night; if a person crosses their threshold, a loud sound of barking dogs goes off, as well as sirens and flashing lights. Jones said that he had personally set off the alarm before when at the Mustang Inn for an evening inspection, and it didn’t go off for about a minute and a half.

Liquor Board Inspector John Chrissomallis testified that he had met with the Melletts and the three customers. He also interviewed seven nearby businesses, none of whom had a problem with the Mustang Inn. He drove by the location several times and did not observe any illegal activity.

Ms. Ginger Cornejo, owner of the Mustang Inn since 2004, testified about what she witnessed on her security camera footage, which was almost identical to what had already been testified to by Chief Inspector Jones. Miss Connie testified that she gave the patrons their money back and asked them to leave, because they were cursing and angry after their interaction with the Melletts. Mr. Raul Diaz was a patron inside the bar at the time of the incident and affirmed what others had said. An employee from the Creative Alliance did the same; she had been walking by and had talked with the African-American patron, after the interaction with the Melletts. Other neighbors testified that the Melletts’ buzzer is very loud and disruptive to the neighborhood.

Commissioner Moore asked Mr. Mellett if he had used a racial epithet, and he denied it. He said that thirty percent of his customers are African-American. Moore asked Mellett whether he believes that he has a right to move people off a public sidewalk, and Mellett said that he does if there’s enough trouble.

Zoning B-2-3
Neighborhood Canton
Area demographics 86% White, 4% Black, 3% Asian; 5% Hispanic ethnicity; 9% households have children under age 18; median household income: $82,130
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; yes.
Location of entity’s principal office Baltimore, MD
Attorney for licensee Mr. Melvin Kodenski
# in support ~8
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 2
# of inspectors/police officers 2
Result of hearing Not responsible.
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision

Chairman Ward said that the Melletts’ conduct is outrageous, that they are interfering with the public and with the licensee’s right to do business. There was no evidence presented that the bar operated improperly in any way; to the contrary, it appeared that the bar bent over backwards to avoid offensive. On a public sidewalk, anybody has the right to be there, and the Melletts do not have the right to operate loud alarms.

Commissioner Jones agreed that it was disturbing. The business went out of its way to give the patrons’ money back and asked them to leave.

Commissioner Jones said that there was not enough evidence to sustain a violation of the rules. She told the Melletts that the board members understand that bar patrons can be a problem, but this case showed very poor judgment on the Melletts’ part. Mustang Inn has done everything they can do to accommodate their neighbors, and no other businesses have complaints about the bar. Moore told the neighbors that she hopes that they examine themselves and make some changes to how they interact with the world, and “those barking dogs need to stop.”

Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed None

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