The My Place Bar & Lounge in North Odenton will retain its liquor license, after a county hearing that saw the bar’s supporters far outnumber its opponents.
The Anne Arundel County Board of License Commissioners (liquor board) said the three licensees of the Annapolis Road bar demonstrated they were qualified to hold the license and that the bar filled a public need.
Several dozen My Place patrons filled a hearing room Tuesday night to refute claims that the establishment was a magnet for violence and other illegal activity.
Meanwhile, only three residents and one nearby business owner came to speak out against the bar and licensees Sun Wilson, Jung Kay and Water Ruth.
Tuesday’s hearing was called after the Greater Odenton Improvement Association (GOIA) collected nearly 50 signatures calling to stop the renewal of the liquor license at My Place, citing a number of reported violent incidents near the bar last year. The signatures came largely from residents living on Canteen Circle in Seven Oaks, which backs up to the bar.
But only one of those nearby residents, Amanda Brown, ultimately testified against My Place.
“The residents didn’t show up,” GOIA Vice President David Tibbetts said. “We’re out here trying to help, but we can’t make people show up and do their part. They had to show up and say ‘the neighborhood has changed, we don’t need this bar.’ They failed to do so, and they’ll have to live with it for another year.”
Brown, who brought her two-year-old son to the hearing, said many other residents near the bar have husbands deployed overseas with the military, and were unable to find child care in order to come and testify. She said she often hears profanity coming from bar customers and that many people on her street are looking to sell their homes.
My Place patrons characterized the bar as a fun but safe place to go on weekends and spoke highly of the bar’s manager, Bill Major.
“Everyone has always felt welcome there,” said Ricardo Fox, who was among several dozen people wearing T-shirts in support of the bar. “It’s a family environment. I plan my week around [going there].”
More than 70 My Place patrons signed a petition supporting the bar.
The liquor board stifled efforts by My Place opponents to characterize the bar as dangerous when it ruled that all testimony about activity and operations at the bar be restricted to what witnesses personally saw. Opponents were thus unable to reference reports of triple shooting near the bar in November, as well as incidents involving a stabbing and machete attack last. Most testimony centered on concerns over parking and loitering.
“Everybody is mostly concerned about safety,” said Bill Chewning, the owner of the nearby North Odenton Plaza, which is adjacent to My Place. “The incidents you’ve read about in [the media] have happened in their establishment and on their parking lot, but we weren’t allowed to bring any of that up. It’s unfortunate.”
Lt. Steve Thomas of the Anne Arundel County Police Department attended the meeting but was not called to speak. My Place opponents had hoped he would testify in support of their case, but learned prior to the meeting that he was unlikely to state there was a connection between the bar and violent crime in the vicinity.
"All we're hearing about are some parking problems," My Place attorney Richard Bittner told the liquor board. "You have nothing that you can form a legal conclusion on that any particular problem is caused by the operations of My Place Bar."
Witness testimony revealed that Chewning and Major had a strained relationship stemming from the management of the former Traffic Bar and Lounge. Both sides acknowledged that Major had defaulted on a loan from when Chewning managed the property and Major was the bar manager. The bar, which was located near My Place, was shut down after a quadruple shooting that left two people dead in 2008. Major and Chewning have since quarreled frequently over parking issues in the area.
In its petition, GOIA said Major has used the same marketing practices and has attracted a similar crowd as Traffic. But the board blocked most of the testimony against Major because his name is not on the liquor license. The current owners of My Place said they have a plan to eventually allow Major to take over the business.
Bittner initially argued that the petition against the bar was invalid because there was no proof the signers lived within close proximity to the bar. The board shot down the motion.
With the petition accepted, it was up to the licensees to prove they were qualified and that the bar met a public need. The liquor board ultimately ruled in favor of the bar on both counts, but acknowledged a general problem with violence near bars in North Odenton, commonly referred to as “the Strip.”
“There are problems in this general area,” board attorney Harry Blumenthal said. “The board has difficulty pinpointing the problems to the licensee particularly. There are numerous licensed facilities that could be and probably are contributing to the problem.”