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The Baltimore County liquor board approved six more liquor licenses for Metro Centre at Owings Mills, finding a five-license cap applies per mixed-use project rather than to the development as a whole. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Association eyes appeal of liquor licenses awarded to Metro Center

Officials with the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association say they plan to appeal a decision awarding six liquor licenses at one transit-oriented development project, the Metro Centre at Owings Mills.

Jack Milani, chairman of the association’s legislative committee, said the decision Monday by the Baltimore County Board of Liquor License Commissioners violates a 2006 change to state law intended to cap liquor licenses at transit-oriented developments.

Milani said the law was intended to cap the total number of new licenses for the massive Owings Mills development at five. But attorneys for the developer, David S. Brown Enterprises Ltd., said a county zoning official last year determined that the cap applied separately to each of the developer’s two mixed-use projects at the site, for a maximum of 10.

“We have no problem with five,” said Milani, of the Beverage Association, which represents existing license holders. “We negotiated five but now it’s turned into 10.”

Add in three more licenses that could be transferred from the southeast area of the county, and “now we’re talking about as many as 13,” Milani said.

Six sought, granted

Liquor licenses in the county are created based on population in each election district. The beverage association fiercely tracks the creation or transfer of licenses, which have a financial value that varies from one area of the county to another.

In areas where the maximum number of licenses has been reached, such as Towson and Timonium, the sales price can start at $220,000. The cost of purchasing a license in the Middle River-Essex area, where there are more licenses than the present population would otherwise allow, can be as little as $56,000.

The liquor board had already awarded the Metro Centre project two liquor licenses. On Monday, the board considered the developer’s request for six more — three per mixed-use project, identified as DSB 1 and DSB 2.

Christopher D. Mudd, an attorney at Venable LLP representing the developer, said the request conformed with the county zoning law.

“The two mixed-use projects are within one transit-oriented development,” Mudd said “We have enough square footage. We are proposing five licenses within each mixed-use development and each mixed-used development is within one transit-oriented development.”

The project calls for 1.2 million square-feet of office space along with another 300,000 square-feet of retail space. There will also be 1,700 residential units and a 250-room hotel.

Baltimore County has built a new library branch at the facility and added satellite classrooms for the Community College of Baltimore County.

Mudd said the project is conceived as a “24-hour live, work, play community.”

David F. Mister, an attorney representing the Metro Centre project, told the board that Milani’s argument goes at most to the intent of the law — something the board was not obligated to consider in this instance because the law was unambiguous.

“The express language of the law does not prohibit this,” Mister said. “Everything could be drafted differently but we’re stuck with what’s there.”

In the end, the three-member board sided with the developer and awarded three beer, wine and liquor licenses to each of the two mixed-use developments.

Milani said having the board essentially decide the issue based on a zoning issue that did not have a public vetting could lead to an appeal.

“What you have here is the liquor board having to interpret a letter from zoning officials,” Milani said. “That’s not good.”