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Bethesda Condo Owners Against Looser Alcohol Rules For Bars

By Aaron Kraut

Thursday - 2/13/2014, 1:40pm  ET

The Edgemoor Condominiums in downtown BethesdaA downtown Bethesda community of condo and homeowners is against less stringent alcohol regulations for bars, in what might be the first bit of pronounced opposition to Montgomery County’s Nighttime Economy Task Force recommendations.

Those recommendations included extending 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. The plan also included adjusting the county’s 50-50 ratio for food-to-alcohol sold.

The Task Force recommended 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.

In a meeting with county planners on Tuesday, residents of the Edgemoor Condominiums, Fairmont Plaza, Chase, Hampden Square, City Homes and homes in the Edgemoor neighborhood expressed “universal opposition” to those recommendations.

According to a summary of the issues provided to county planners by Jon Weintraub and Jane Fairweather, those in attendance left no room for misinterpretation:

1] There is universal opposition to the County Executive’s Nighttime Bethesda proposal, if it means extending bar hours and changing the revenue ratio. It should not move forward! What can be done to ensure that the noise ordinance is not altered for downtown Bethesda?

Weintraub and Fairweather, two well known Bethesda civic leaders, helped organize the meeting to discuss the Planning Department’s Downtown Bethesda Sector Plan update.

Other issues included: A cumulative look at new development to help stagger construction disruptions, developer contributions to the “Tunnel Vision” project, less intrusion on to sidewalks by restaurants with outdoor seating, more public and green space and the idea of developers buying into desired public amenities instead of standard on-site pocket parks.

But the residents’ opposition to the less stringent rules for bars is sure to create some tension.

The Task Force was spurred by the county executive’s office and supported by council members such as Hans Riemer. County officials think loosening the rules could be a way to attract more young people to Montgomery’s urban areas. That, theoretically, would lead to a more diverse and robust economy.

Riemer put out a survey last year and received an strong response in support of some of the changes the Task Force was examining. Many of the survey takers said they were older. Sixty-three percent of the 1,831 respondents said they were married, 61 percent responded that they had at least one child, 48 percent said they were age 50 or older and 53 percent said they had lived in the county for 20 or more years.

At the time, Riemer said he was expecting a more hostile response on the issue, which has been a hot button topic since the Task Force was assembled last May.