The county’s Nighttime Economy Task Force formally presented County Executive Isiah Leggett with its recommendations for upping nightlife in the county.
Now, it’s time for local and state lawmakers to balance the call for more lenient liquor and noise laws with the county’s largely suburban way of living.
The 60-page report includes 32 recommendations including incentives for developers to build small performance art spaces, a “business concierge” to help those interested in opening bars or lounges and more free taxi services for bar patrons too drunk to drive.
Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At large) says he hopes the process going forward will be a combination of self-review by county departments and local and state legislation — especially when it comes to changing alcohol law.
The Task Force recommended the county create a “social venue” license to allow new bars freedom from a Depression-era requirement that restaurants sell at least as much food as alcohol. The Task Force also recommended adjusting that ratio to 60 percent alcohol sold and 40 percent food sold, a measure that will have to be taken up in Annapolis.
That process has gotten a lot of attention through the six months of the Task Force’s work. But also of concern is how the Department of Liquor Control, which warehouses and distributes alcohol to all stores and restaurants in the county, serves private businesses.
Many have complained the process for filling special orders takes too long, which has hurt competitiveness with restaurants in D.C. or Northern Virginia.
“A lot is actually happening, way more than I would have even thought frankly at the start of this,” said Riemer, who took a lead role in creating the Task Force. “There are proposals on the table that I would support. To make the Department of Liquor Control an enterprise fund, so it’s more independent from the county government, still provides resources back to the county government but isn’t sort of trapped by procurement and job classification rules that are designed for libraries and not for the restaurant sector. I think we can move forward on things like that.”
Heather Dlhopolsky, a Bethesda attorney and chair of the Task Force, again emphasized the Task Force wasn’t just about catering to the 20-34 year-old crowd, citing the potential of attracting empty nesters to more vibrant downtown urban areas.
In his prepared remarks, County Executive Isiah Leggett didn’t talk much about the push to attract millennials. But the notion that Montgomery County is missing out on the tax paying population of young professionals who demand relatively few government services was the major impetus for the Task Force.
“We educate a large number of young people. Young people are here for that formative phase of their lives,” Leggett said. “They go off to college. When they are of an age to buy cars, buy homes, buy clothes and everything else, many of them decide because of jobs and because of the attractive appearance of the quality of life, they go to some other location. We’ve lost them.”
A reporter asked Leggett why the county held the press conference about the recommendations in a room in the Executive Office Building in Rockville, instead of in an outdoor space, perhaps in downtown Silver Spring.
“These changes are going to have to be made in Rockville,” Leggett said.
The Task Force also recommended urban park guidelines for parks in downtown areas, with the idea that some could be opened up at night to provide for a wider range of activities.
Also included in the recommendations is funding for public safety liaisons in each urban area that would respond to any late night-related concerns of trash workers, code enforcement staff, local businesses, neighborhood organizations and police commanders.
Leggett and Riemer said budget-related requests would take time.
“It took us many years to get into this situation, so it’s going to take time to fix it,” Leggett said.
The bullet points version of the recommendations are available on the county’s website.