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Noise, Liquor Rules Highlight Nighttime Economy Recommendations

by Aaron Kraut — October 22, 2013 at 10:15 am 285 5 Comments

Bethesda Row, Flickr pool photo by AmyMarieMooreMontgomery County’s Nighttime Economy Task Force on Monday finalized recommendations for improving the county’s nightlife scene with an emphasis on new rules that would allow for more bars.

Now, restaurants in the county generally must ensure food sales match alcohol sales. The Task Force will recommend that ratio be adjusted to 60 percent alcohol sales and 40 percent food sales in addition to the creation of a “social venue license” that would cost more to obtain but wouldn’t include a mandated ratio.

Much of the discussion in the group’s final meeting on Monday centered around the ratio and the purpose of the county’s Department of Liquor Control in general.

Montgomery County operates as a control alcohol jurisdiction, with all alcohol purchases coming from a central DLC warehouse. That has led to complaints from restaurant owners about the availability of special orders, such as craft beer, and the time it takes to fill an order.

Evan Glass, a Silver Spring activist and prospective County Council candidate, said the group should talk about how necessary the DLC is.

It’s a contentious issue, in large part because the DLC contributes $25-$30 million a year to the county’s General Fund. It also recently opened a new warehouse in Gaithersburg.

Glass suggested the DLC should at least keep a portion of that contribution to hire more employees who could help it be more responsive.

Most agreed that recommending wholesale changes, or the dissolution of the DLC, was too big a task for the Task Force. The final recommendation, when it comes out in the Task Force’s final report next week, will call for a study of the DLC’s effectiveness from the Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight.

The social venue license is meant to mirror D.C.’s tavern license, which applies no ratios and simply requires a bar serve food. Alan Pohoryles, the owner of Tommy Joe’s and Roof, said the idea gives Montgomery County a chance to compete with bars in D.C.

The county wants to compete with D.C. and Arlington for young professionals who have flocked to those areas. County Executive Isiah Leggett, Councilmember Hans Riemer and other policy makers came up with the Task Force to devise ways to improve nightlife and attract those residents.

It has been a hot button issue since the county’s new focus on it hit the news in February.

Heather Dlhopolsky, a Bethesda attorney and chair of the Task Force, made it clear the Task Force wasn’t just about catering to the 20-34 year-old crowd, citing the significant number of empty nesters moving to downtown Bethesda.

So far, Riemer and others on the Task Force haven’t heard much in the way of opposition to what are anticipated to be controversial, “way of life” changes for the well-entrenched suburban community.

The Task Force will recommend the county extend the hours of operation for venues with alcohol licenses an hour, to 3 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and the Sundays before Monday federal holidays and 2 a.m. on weeknights.

That would match D.C. and Prince George’s County and prevent what Pohoryles said restaurant owners call “the mad dash,” the period when Montgomery County bar goers get in their cars and drive to D.C. for another hour of alcohol service. The rule would keep the half-hour “grace period,” in which last call would actually be half-an-hour before closing time.

Also part of the bar-friendly recommendations are changes to the county’s noise ordinance in specific urban areas.

The Task Force will recommend increasing the allowable noise levels for “qualifying arts and entertainment activities in these areas,” to 85 decibels, allowing those levels to midnight and ensuring nearby residents are informed of the law prior to moving in.

It’s unclear where a so-called “urban noise area” would be in Bethesda. Examples mentioned by the Task Force include Rockville’s Town Square and Silver Spring’s Veterans Plaza, defined areas around civic structures.

The final report will also call for the creation of Urban Park Guidelines to allow for more night time uses of county parks, more taxi service and a rule to allow food trucks to open in designated areas after 10 p.m.

Leggett is expected to release the final report early next week. The bullet point-version should be available online this week.

  • MrBethesda

    Maybe a partial step regarding the Department of Liquor Control would be for them to control only distilled spirits and allow retailers to buy beer and wine directly from the supplier. The DLC would be allowed to continue to sell wine and beer but would lose its monopoly.

    Also, let Amazon operate the new DLC warehouse. Is there anybody more efficient at processing orders than Amazon?

  • milt

    “the DLC contributes $25-$30 million a year to the county’s General Fund”

    Yes,
    but the $30 million isn’t ‘free’. Any economist will tell you that
    that money comes directly from restaurants/bars and their customers.
    This reduces their options, quality of service and overall experience
    and contributes to the problem. We need more people in MoCo that
    understand how economics, markets and taxes work.

    • bethesda resident

      Not only do patrons pay for that $25-30 million, but the DLC clearly contributes to the lagging nightlife economy in the County as well. So, it seems residents and patrons pay double for having a DLC. Still, 25-30 million is a big chunk of revenue AND even if there was no DLC, private distributors would be making profits on distributing alcohol, so it’s not like eliminating the DLC is going to return all of that money to consumers. It might only mean bar owners make higher margins or diversify their offerings. After all, even if the wholesale price went down after the DLC was eliminated, establishments may not feel pressure to lower their prices; if consumers are used to paying a given price than businesses are likely to believe they won’t see much change in patronage if pocket the difference.

  • InterestedParty

    The DLC is a dinosaur of the 1930s that should never have been. The DLC is stifles consumer choices–who shops for wine in MoCo or goes to the local “beer and wine” if they have time to go to DC? The DLC stifles market creativity–look at the development of brewpubs and craft breweries in DC and VA compared to MoCo. The DLC is inefficient–the last study I read reported that the DLC had a “breakage” rate that was significantly higher than commercial liquor distributors and retailers. The MoCo employees aren’t more clumsy, they are stealing. MoCo politicians and employees are hooked on the guaranteed revenue stream, even if it is less than they would get through a stamp tax, which is what literally every other state and county in the country uses. MoCo is also unwilling to take on the DLC vested interests–a lot of MoCo employees. I will grant that MoCo has competitive liquor prices due to their purchasing power, but it isn’t that significant to overcome the negatives.

    MD finally, after years of procrastination and dodging, allows private citizens to receive wine shipments from wineries. It took years of public pressure on the state politicians to get them to put constituent interests ahead of liquor and wine distributor interests.

    Putting the DLC out of business would increase county revenue through stamp tax efficiency, a better business environment for restaurateurs, and more MoCo residents shopping for liquor, beer, and wine at home.

  • Eneshal Miller

    Evan Glass is on the task force, when he explained it to me and my husband it made a lot of sence!

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