Church Opposition Limits Berlin Restaurant’s Alcohol License

SNOW HILL —  This month’s Board of License Commissioners (BLC) meeting saw the approval of seven new alcohol licenses, though one will be coming with conditions due to the protests of a Berlin church.

Two Berlin restaurants, each slated to open next month and both owned by Ernest Gerardi, received seven-day beer, wine and liquor licenses last week. While the hearing for the Siculi restaurant proceeded without a hiccup, the license for Paco’s Tex-Mex and Beyond met some pushback from representatives of Stevenson United Methodist Church.

Representative Ed Horner told the BLC that Stevenson does not oppose Paco’s, which is located about 60 feet from the church, receiving a liquor license. The church’s only problem is with alcohol being served outside, due to children being prevalent in the area.

The Paco’s property features a patio with outdoor seating that directly faces the church. While Gerardi has promised to screen the section with vegetation, Horner remained adamant that it would not be appropriate to have outdoor drinking so close to the place of worship.

Besides the number of children that belong to the congregation, Horner pointed out that several area youth groups, like the Boy Scouts, use Stevenson to hold meetings. Additionally, the church plays host to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on some nights.

“They don’t need any encouragement,” he said.

Gerardi was mindful of the church’s fears and met with them prior to the BLC meeting hoping to set their concerns to rest. He pointed out to the board that Paco’s will have a friendly atmosphere.

“My objective was to have this as a family restaurant,” he said. “This is not a bar scene. I don’t want it to be a bar scene.”

Attorney Mark Cropper, representing Gerardi, pointed out the town wrote a letter of support for both Siculi and Paco’s. Additionally, both restaurants were discussed in detail at Berlin Mayor and Council meetings but never met any resistance at the time.

“Has the church ever voiced opposition to those efforts by the town?” he asked Horner.
Horner admitted that they had not because they were unaware of the meetings.

BLC Chair William Esham was conflicted about the situation. He praised the efforts of Gerardi to bring new restaurants to Berlin as well as other work the developer has done over the last decade to revitalize the town.

“The places you’ve done have been an asset to the town and the community,” he told Gerardi.

However, Esham said that he was also mindful of the church’s 100 year history in town, saying, “I’m not going to fight the church.”

The BLC approved Paco’s license on the condition that it only serve alcohol inside or on the outside patio that faces Main Street, not the one facing the church. Esham also advised Horner and Gerardi to look for additional compromises and return in a few months to discuss serving alcohol outside of Paco’s.

The other five licenses that came before the board last week were quickly green lighted.

The Burley Inn Tavern, which will be located at the former Goobers building in Berlin, will be a “small, old English tavern,” according to owner Cody Bates. A June opening is planned.

“I just want to be a very family kind of everyman’s place in Berlin,” he said.

Hooters will be opening up a new West Ocean City location this summer and its license request was granted.

Also in West Ocean City, the “Locals” beer and wine store license request was granted as was Assateague Island Oasis and the Shrimp Boat.