Booze News: Distilled in Room 215

A blog about the Baltimore City Liquor Board

Rules and Regulations Committee #8.

Written by Becky Witt

The eighth meeting of the Rules and Regulations committee was held on October 5, 2015.

(c) Class BD7 Licensees: Open and Operating Tavern at all times (i) Definitions: The Board considers all Class BD7 licenses as tavern operations. (a) A tavern is defined as an establishment where alcoholic beverages are habitually sold for on premise consumption. Such alcoholic beverages must be served at a bar or in a lounge area, which cannot be separated from the public by any fixed barrier. (b) A bar is defined as a counter, in whatever configuration (horseshoe, L-shaped, U-shaped, etc.), at which stools and/or chairs have been placed and from which alcoholic beverages are habitually served for on premise consumption. (c) A package goods area is defined as an area within the licensed premises which has as its primary activity the sale of package goods and in which no on premise consumption regularly takes place. (I). While no new separate package goods areas can be constructed, any BD7 licensee who has operated under a previously approved separate package goods store, department and/or section may continue the operation of the separate store, department and/or section provided such separate package goods area (ii) Prohibition: The holders of a Class BD7 license shall grant all patrons access to a fully functioning/open and operating tavern portion of the licensed premises, wherever that may be on the premises, at any and all times when the packaged goods area is open and operating (a) A fully functioning/open and operating tavern shall have a counter, in whatever configuration (horseshoe, L-shaped, U-shaped, etc.), at which stools and/or chairs have been placed and from which alcoholic beverages are habitually served by a bartender for on premise consumption. There shall be no barriers or partitions separating the patrons of the establishment, who wish to drink on premise, from the bartender who is serving the alcoholic beverages. (c) Class C Licensees: May not be Open to the General Public (i) Class C establishments are prohibited from granting the general public access to the licensed premises. Class C establishment are open and operating for the purposes of serving their membership. To that end, all Class C licensees must have on site and available for inspection by Board inspectors or other law enforcement personnel, the following: (a) A daily sign-in sheet documenting when members and their guests visit the club. (b) A Members log that details membership and dues information for each active member of the club.

Continuing from the previous meeting’s discussion, Minda Goldberg explained her issues with the BD-7 tavern license regulations: the zoning regulations are not compatible with the Liquor Board’s regulations for these licenses. Zoning says that taverns are establishments that are primarily for on-site consumption. Primarily means more than 50% of the square footage of the building should be devoted to on-site consumption. Goldberg expressed surprise that the Liquor Board was actually loosening its restrictions on BD-7 licensees, not tightening them. She suggested that the Board give time to the licensees who are not in compliance because they have separate package goods sections to come into compliance by removing the barriers. For example, she suggested, by the time of 2017 renewals, all BD-7 licensees should conform to the way the rules were written in 1998: that there should be no bulletproof glass partition and that the licensees should sell package goods over a bar. Ms. Bailey-Hedgepeth had admitted that the Liquor Board had given permission for new glass partitions even since she had been the Executive Secretary, which they were not supposed to have done after 1993.

At this point, Commissioner Douglas Trotter briefly came into the room and addressed the committee. He said that he wanted the committee to draft some administrative rules, like, for example, “so many days to appeal.” He complained that “people are giving us information the day of the meeting” when the Board has had “no time to review it” or “make judgements on it.” He concluded, “have fun, gentlemen. Looking forward to it,” and left the room.

Goldberg continued with her line of thought that the 1998 rules state that you can’t transfer a license that is not in compliance; this was intended to get all the BD-7 licenses up to code over time, but it was not enforced. She looked up the word “habitually” in the dictionary, and it’s defined as “consistently” or “constantly.” Goldberg pointed out that the city is trying to work on the liquor density issue through the proposed zoning code, and the Liquor Board should try to align itself with what the city is doing. She said that the rules are “kind of a mess” and allowing the mess to continue doesn’t help the Liquor Board clean up the problems.

Mr. Steve Johnson, from the Mount Vernon Belvedere Association, agreed that many of these so-called taverns are acting like package goods stores, with totally separate entries and bulletproof glass.

Ms. Laurie Feinberg, from Baltimore City’s Planning Department, stated that, from the city’s perspective, they look at the BD-7 tavern licenses through a public health lens. Public health researchers have found that BD-7 “sham taverns,” open extensive hours, not operating like an actual tavern, are problems for communities. If these stores want Sunday sales, the Maryland legislature should act to create Sunday sales for package goods licenses (Class A), which are currently only 6-day licenses. Feinberg said that liquor stores that want to do wine tastings should be able to do that under a Class A license as well, without having to get a tavern license, which is not appropriate.

Licensee Ms. Vicki Schassler, who holds a BD-7 license, disagreed: she said that she owns a wine shop where you can sit and have a glass of wine, which has saved her business. On Friday nights, 80% of her sales are from the bar, not package goods. There is no bulletproof glass. She said, “it’s a neat license to have.” If the Liquor Board changed their rule to require that the business “principally” sell for on-site consumption, Ms. Schassler would be in violation, Mr. Fine said. He pointed out that there are other licenses in this category, like Wine Source and Grand Cru. Said Fine, “the solution may have unintended consequences.” Ms. Feinberg replied that Ms. Schassler, from a zoning perspective is perfectly conforming. Mr. Fine suggested that Ms. Schassler could petition the Maryland state legislature to create a different kind of license that would better serve her purposes; Schassler quickly responded, “well, I wouldn’t want to get rid of it now! It’s too good. I’d be upset if I had to give it up.”

Executive Secretary Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth and Deputy Executive Secretary Tom Akras were strongly in favor of loosening the BD-7 restrictions. In some neighborhoods, Bailey-Hedgepeth said, the owners have to have bulletproof glass. The Liquor Board does not keep records of when they’ve approved bulletproof glass, so they have no way of knowing whether it was approved properly (pre-1993) or not (post-1993). The Liquor Board gets rid of anything in the file older than 3 years. Bailey-Hedgepeth continued, saying that the density issue isn’t always related to BD-7 licenses, since the Board has created so many new Class B restaurant licenses. She added that a lot of the BD-7s in the city are in the Southeast, and residents want them and like them.

Abraham Hurdle, licensees’ attorney, stated that “these places are war zones. If the City fixes these areas, the bulletproof glass comes down in a week.” To require the licensees to remove bulletproof glass would be to endanger their lives, Hurdle said.

John Pica, licensees’ attorney and former state senator, asked Ms. Feinberg if she really thought that crime would go down if some of the taverns went out of business. Feinberg replied that she did. However, only Class A licenses would be covered by the zoning rewrite.

Minda Goldberg noted that the Health Commissioner had recently written an op-ed about Baltimore City’s liquor regulation. She said that the Liquor Board has had rules about what a BD-7 should be, that they should not try to target particular establishments, but “it’s time to enforce them.” Bailey-Hedgepeth replied, that everybody would be out of compliance. Goldberg said that there are mechanisms for bringing people into compliance. Bailey-Hedgepeth argued that “these are long-established businesses;” Goldberg said that the Liquor Board’s current rules state that nonconforming businesses cannot transfer ownership, which the Board has not been enforcing.

Mr. Mel Kodenski, licensees’ attorney, argued that very few of the BD-7 tavern licenses open at 6am. He said that certain establishments are being targed and “how about heroin and the rest of it?”

Adult Entertainment

Mr. Akras pointed out that most of the propsed Adult Entertainment regulations are verbatim from the Baltimore City Code, Article 15, section 1. Because so little was added to the City Code, the rules laid out below are only the rules that were discussed and amended during the meeting.

Rule 2.06 (c) Late Renewal Fee: If a licensee fails to file his/her renewal application before or on June 30 of each year, then he/she shall pay a $50 fine for each business day the renewal application has not been submitted to the Board, after the 30th of June. The total fine is not to exceed $1,500.00.

Executive Secretary Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth noted that there is currently in the rules and regulations no provision for fining adult entertainment licensees for filing their renewal applications late. For liquor licenses, there is a $50 late fine per day, up to $1,500.

Rule 3.21 Location of Performance. (a) A dancer may not perform or otherwise appear nude unless the dancer: (i) is on a stage that is raised at least 18 inches above floor level; and (ii) except as provided in subsection (b) of these rules, is at least 3 feet from the nearest patron. (b) An adult entertainment business lawfully operating as of October 14, 1999 need not modify its current layout to conform to the requirement of subsection (a)(ii) of this rule. However, if a business renovates or substantially alters the layout of the licensed premises, the new layout must be made to conform to the requirement of subsection (a)(ii) of this rule.

The licensees’ attorneys noted that most adult entertainment venues are grandfathered in and do not have to comply with this rule; nude lap dances are permitted in some locations and not in others. Mr. Fine asked, “is this really what we need to be considering?” The committee decided to remove Rule 3.21, regarding the stage for adult entertainment.

The committee briefly went back to discuss Rule 4.18 of the Liquor License Rules.

Rule 4.18 – Alterations. (a) A license holder may not make an alteration or addition to licensed premises or change the manner in which alcoholic beverages are dispensed without obtaining permission from the Board. (b) A licensee may not make installations or alterations on the licensed premises without obtaining the required permits and approvals from the City.

Minda Goldberg suggested that, in this rule, a section be added that says that all unapproved alterations must be removed and the premises restored to its original state. Mr. Fine wondered whether the Board has the authority to require this. Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth and Tom Akras both stated that it was their understanding that the Board did not have the authority to order the licensee to take it down. Rather, the Board may find the licensee guilty of a continuing violation and may fine or suspend the license until the issue is resolved.

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