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Liquor Issues

by Fern Shen1:27 pmNov 10, 20160

Stadium Lounge, reopened on appeal, is heading back to Liquor Board

Judge reverses license revocation after tavern argued that commissioners erred

Above: Its license revoked in July, the Stadium Lounge is open for business again. (Fern Shen)

Last spring, the Stadium Lounge case was Exhibit A for the Annapolis lawmakers who eventually ousted Gov. Larry Hogan’s appointees to the Baltimore Liquor Board:

The board’s then-chairman, Benjamin A. Neil, had gone to a judge and quietly reopened the lounge, just two months into a six-month suspension imposed by the previous commissioners.

Community leaders who have been complaining for years about the Waverly tavern were furious.

In July, the new Liquor Board led by Chairman Albert J. Matricciani, Jr. not only shut the establishment’s doors again, it did so with seeming finality.

The panel revoked the tavern’s license after hours of testimony from community leaders at a May hearing about patrons’ public intoxication, urination, masturbation and more.

But the iconic orange-and-purple establishment at 3351-53 York Road is back in business again, seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., selling cheap liquor and “minis,” its dead license brought back to life.

After hearing the tavern’s appeal, Circuit Court Judge Alfred Nance issued a terse order last month remanding the community’s “protest of renewal” back to the Liquor Board. (It’s on the docket next week.)

Nance didn’t cite a reason, but the licensee’s main argument was that the commissioners who voted 2-1 to kill the license had made a fatal error:

They had based their decision on their own experience of driving by the bar, vaguely referencing their “ex parte observations,” rather than reviewing the specific evidence and testimony before them, according to a memorandum submitted by the Stadium Lounge’s three lawyers.

“People Were Milling About”

In their memo, attorneys Peter A. Prevas, Abraham L. Hurdle and Melvin J. Kodenski quoted from the remarks each commissioner had made before voting.

“I drive by the location quite a bit, at least twice a day. And depending on the time of day, it’s a problem,” Commissioner Dana Petersen Moore had said, at the start of her comment. “And other times of day, it’s not a problem.”

“I visited the area. . . I spent some time in the neighborhood,” Commissioner Aaron Greenfield said at one point, when his turn came. “People were milling about.”

Chairman Matricciani, who cast the lone vote against revoking the license, made a point of saying he recorded his views on the day of the hearing to ensure they were accurate.

“I also feel constrained to base my decision entirely on the record that’s presented here before the board,” he noted.

The testimony had focused on the protestants’ complaints, which said the establishment:

• Had been the source of frequent neighborhood disturbances with at least 18 police responses in the last 12 months for incidents, ranging from aggravated assault, intoxicated and disorderly people, and narcotics violations, according to police.

• Sells single drinks for consumption offsite, leading to a stream of intoxicated people wandering the streets and alleys, consuming alcohol and littering area with hundreds of discarded bottles.

• Allows their clientele to use the alleys as toilets.

• Exposes school children to drunken, lewd and belligerent behavior on their way to and from school.

• Was unwilling to agree to any significant restrictions during a lengthy MOU negotiation process with the community.

The Liquor Board’s attorney, Alice Pinderhughes, countered that Moore and Greenfield had properly cited the facts presented at the hearing.

Pinderhughes quoted Moore, who noted in her remarks that “the testimony, the letters and the communications on this license have been overwhelmingly negative.”

Do-Over Hearings

Contacted by The Brew, Moore had no comment about the two commissioners’ alleged errors that led to the re-opening of the bar, other than saying she hadn’t read the attorneys’ memo.

She pointed instead to the new protest-of-renewal hearing scheduled for next Thursday (November 17).

“The new hearing is de novo, as though the first hearing never occurred,” she said. “So I imagine we will get a slew of new info and filings and documents and witnesses.”

Moore noted that the entire afternoon session has been set aside for the matter.

Attorney Becky Lundberg Witt, who represented the community protesting the license, said putting on the case a second time is no simple matter for her or the residents.

“Gathering neighbors to go to City Hall to protest the renewal of a liquor license requires a huge amount of organization, time, and money,” she said.

“People have to take time off work, arrange child care, travel downtown, pay for parking, and sit and wait, sometimes for hours.”

Witt, staff attorney at the Community Law Center, said she hoped the commissioners would recognize those challenges and steer clear of actions that would lead to do-over hearings.

She urged the commissioners to “follow the basics of administrative law and procedure” and cite testimony and evidence from hearings.

“I am sure that the commissioners will be prepared to do this next Thursday at the hearing,” she said.

In the meantime, according to Natalya Brusilovsky, co-president of the Waverly Improvement Association, neighbors’ problems with the tavern, run by licensee Domingo Kim, have returned.

“The public drinking, the litter on your lawn, the people relieving themselves in the alleys,” she said. “That’s all back.”

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