It was thought there would be concerns with Worcester County not allowing local bars and restaurants to continue with carryout drinks next month. Though there has not been an outcry from liquor license holders, according to the Board of License Commissioners (BLC), it was expected by some Worcester County would follow the recent state legislation allowing the practice to continue beyond the state of emergency, which expires July 1.
Bills passed in Annapolis earlier this year allowed for the continued sale of carryout drinks with carryout food orders, “providing that certain authorization for the holders of certain licenses to sell alcoholic beverages for off-premise consumption in a certain manner applies only in a jurisdiction in which the local licensing board had adopted certain regulations.” In other words, local control rules. The state will allow restaurants and bars to continue selling margarita jugs or other mixed drinks in to-go cups with lids, but the local governing body can restrict it. Worcester has opted to restrict it.
“As a result of the expiration of the governor’s executive orders in regard to carryout and delivery of alcoholic beverages, effective July 1, 2021, all holders of alcoholic beverage licenses in Worcester County will cease all carry out and delivery of alcoholic beverages, which were permitted solely through the executive orders,” read the BLC’s notice last week. While the email to license holders surprised some operators, there does not appear to be a major uprising in support of retaining this pandemic perk. As of early this week, the BLC had not fielded any complaints, according to its attorney.
It seems the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce is trying to discover whether businesses truly are fine with this practice being dropped or are just too busy to notice. A “Carryout Alcohol Impact Survey” read, “If your business/customers benefited from such privileges during the pandemic and would like for this to continue, NOW is the time to contact the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners (BLC) requesting that they adopt related regulations as soon as possible. The Restaurant Association of Maryland and the Maryland Licensed Beverage Association have already sent a Letter to Local Liquor Boards requesting such. But it’s important for local liquor boards to also hear directly from licensees on this issue.” The survey poses questions to businesses about the economic impact of not having carryout drinks for sale and whether “discontinuing with carryout alcohol result in the close of your business.”
From my unscientific survey of businesses, many reported adding carryout drinks to a to-go order certainly helps boost sales, especially during lean times. Most business operators I spoke with this week reported being busier than ever, while staying focused on their ongoing help issues and random supply chain problems. The consensus seemed to be fighting for carryout drinks at this point in the summer is not worth it. The added sale to a carryout food order was a nice boost, but many also expressed concerns over what has been seen on the Boardwalk with open alcohol being blatantly consumed. I saw this for myself last weekend with a large group of individuals slamming cocktails on the Boardwalk sea wall near an establishment It’s clear this perk did not help the Boardwalk’s image.
With the budget process now in the books, the next brouhaha in Berlin could be short-term rental regulations. The last time the issue came up officially was in 2019. A proposal was drafted, allowing short-term rentals (essentially AirBNB type operations) in the R-1 and R-2 single family residential districts only in a property owner’s permanent residence. The proposal would allow short-term rentals in the business district. The definition of a “permanent residence” is critical. It’s referred to as a unit in which the owner resides “for an aggregate of at least 180 days annually and the dwelling unit carries the official designation as the owner’s principle residence in accordance with the criteria governing the State of Maryland Department of Assessment and Taxation Homestead Tax Credit Program.”
It’s expected the proposal on the table from two years ago will be a starting point for the Berlin Town Council’s discussion on Monday night. The “permanent residence” issue is going to be huge because it will essentially knock out most short-term rentals. Most of the properties listed for rent on AirBNB today are not year-round homes. Some properties were bought for the purpose of renting. Back in 2019, then-Councilman Zack Tyndall, who was elected mayor last fall, said he did not support the owner-occupied requirement, saying, “I have to agree that I think allowing people to rent their single-family homes is probably a good thing to do.” Councilman Troy Purnell and Tyndall were actually on the same page on this issue, saying then, “I think you need to allow them but monitor them. If you occupy it or don’t occupy it, I still think I have the right to rent it.” It will be interesting to see if the rest of the council feels the same.
Another voice sure to be represented will be the Coastal Association of Realtors, which opposed this very proposal two years ago. “A property owner has the right to operate a short-term rental which, as we’ve expressed in the past, is still a residential use, despite it also being a source of income,” then-CAR President Joe Wilson said.