March 9, 2007

In The News!

(We Will Get Past This!
Excitement is Brewing and Options are Presenting Themselves!
Craig )

Catonsville Times
03/08/07By Marcia Ames

Plan to tap property's potential hits snag

Craig Witzke said his search for restaurant tenants for his Frederick Road property has been hampered by a state law denying a liquor license within 300 feet of a church.
Craig Witzke wants to spice up Catonsville's restaurant scene with a dose of Mexican food, but says his plan needs a liquor license to succeed.
Unfortunately for the Catonsville developer, unless the state lifts its prohibition against selling alcohol within 300 feet of a church in Baltimore County, he has a snowball's chance south of the border in getting such a license.
Witzke is proposing a restaurant for the former Muir Hardware store property he owns at 929 Frederick Road.
That site, though, is near the Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church, at 905 Frederick Road.
Although he hasn't polled the church's members, Witzke said he realizes the law would override their possible support for such a plan.
The county has no leeway in enforcing the law in question other than to exempt a business whose liquor license predates the legislation, said Gerard Kilduff, chief inspector, deputy administrator and a 20-year veteran of the county's Board of Liquor License Commissioners.
Witzke refused to say whether or how he might challenge the restriction.
But he has raised the issue on his blog,, which he initiated in February to engage Catonsville residents in his plans to redevelop the Muir store site.
Witzke's A & A Enterprises company bought 929 Frederick Road in August 2006 for $1.3 million, according to state tax records.
The purchase also included two houses around the corner, at 9 and 11 Newburg Ave., with backyards that extend behind the former hardware store and could be used for parking.
He intends to retain all three buildings, which are more than a century old, "rather than destroying what we have," he said.
Several people have asked about the possibility of opening a restaurant at the former hardware store, he said, and some restaurant owners have contacted him as well.
"We've got good restaurants here already that people like to go to, but the public, I believe, deserves more choices," he said, noting a dearth of Mexican fare.
He believes an additional restaurant would benefit those other destinations in town.
"Having a group of restaurants attracts people to the area," Witzke said.
"Then they can choose which restaurant they're going to when they get there."
Because he plans to use the existing store building, the "F" level-of-service grade proposed this year for Frederick Road's intersection with Bloomsbury and Ingleside avenues, less than a mile away, poses no threat, he said.
If the County Council confirms the F later this spring, as the Planning Board and Department of Public Works have recommended, the failing grade will result in a moratorium on building permits for most development.
But Witzke won't need any building permits to renovate his property, he said.
Only the liquor license, or lack of one, stands in his way, he said.
To suggest other uses for 929 Frederick Road, go to Witzke's Web page,


Anonymous said...

I have scanned through the comments on the blog and I am very hopeful for a "reinvigorated" main street. We have talked about "main street" during quite a few of our neighborhood association (OCNA) meetings. I would hope businesses would find the support they need, but I guess that is the risk. You mentioned approaching various restaurants for your rental properties. What about a place like Vacarro's of Little Italy, which is a chain and has a few smaller shops/cafes around the Baltimore area? A dessert, maybe no alcohol needed, after dinner place? I have found myself wanting a place to go especially after meetings for coffee or dessert on several occasions. I would also be very interested in having a Great Harvest Bread. I don't know if they could get the necessary support they require. I know someone suggested the Catonsville Farmers Market for bread but it is not convenient for those who work outside the home during the day. If you did a Belvedere type thing maybe some days could accommodate the person who doesn't get back to Catonsville till 6pm. Maybe Vacarro's could do bread on the side???

lb said...

Question -- if the liquor license issue is stopping many of the desirable restaurants, and this law is archaic, is there some way we can try to get the law changed? Is there any possibility of some sort of waiver? Are there elected officals we should be contacting?

Craig W. said...

It is my understanding that we cannot get a waiver, even if everyone at the church was ok with it.

THE LAW SHOULD BE CHANGED, but, it will take a while. I am going to proceed within the confines of what can be done today.

If Catonsville or any of the other Main Streets in Baltimore County, ever expect to attract restaurants that will draw new people to the area, these laws will have to be changed.

I think that means that your local Delegates (Jimmy Malone and Steve DeBoy) as well as Senator Kasemeyer and Govenor O'Malley need to be contacted and asked to change the Law.

It would also be a good idea to contact Councilman Sam Moxley and County Executive Jim Smith and ask them to work with the state on our behalf.

In the mean time we can only attract Brand New Businesses with no History. (This can actually be a good thing, they will be offering more variety, as they have to work harder to differentiate themselves). The downside is that in order to grow their businesses, they will have no choice but to try and "steal customers" from the existing restaurants. (Again this could be a good thing, as the existing restaurants will have to work harder to keep their existing customers). Instead of drawing more people to "Fill the Pie" everyone will have to Fight for their "Slice"!

sc said...

Hi Craig & Catonsville.

I want to commend you Craig for engaging the community in this discussion.

I hope the liquor law doesn't make your investment too risky to go forward.

I agree & hope that the main street could one day become an interesting destination in itself, akin to a colorful college town.

Another take on the offeeshop/music venue theme is something like this place, in Vienna Va:

or this place in Annapolis:

Don't you folks out there find it a little ironic that a place that likes to bill itself as "Musictown" has a serious dearth of places for live music (Lurman not included)?

p.s. I am all in favor of a Mexican restaurant too.

Anonymous said...

can you buy the church?

Raymond Bahr said...

Hi Craig,

A Mexican restaurant would be great, I don't know of any in our neighborhood. Holy Frijoles worked out of a small building in Hamden for years as a BYOB. It was fun; they provided the bottle opener and a bucket of ice!

If I had some capital, I'd keep Muir's "rustic" wood floors and turn of the century ambiance and set up a diversified coop. Mix together a Bread Bakery (I miss Grim's Bakery across the street, ), Coffee House, Local Organic Produce Market(see Calvert Farms, One Straw Farm, Spoutwood Farm etc.), and several tables with Live Bluegrass set up in the corner and you'd have a real magnet.

Arbutus has an interesting Coop that used to be a Hardware Store; I believe its in a small strip mall on Francis Ave. Its full of local smiles and sells a varied array of plants (vegetables/flowers), shovels, grass seed, crab meat, cookies, and fresh peaches and produce in season.

Good Luck!

Raymond (Grim) Bahr

Anonymous said...

Mr. Witzke:

Upon reading last week's Times article, I immediately thought of Waterman's restaurant in Ocean City. They too did not have a liquor license when they first opened. Since it's primarily a crab house, we were naturally interested in beer for our crabs. We had to take ours with us and it was no problem at all. In fact, we were able to take our selected brand rather than house choice. This held true with wine. So, knowing that, we were happy to patronize the restaurant and bring beverages if we so desired. It also lowered the cost of dining out! As well, the new Luciano's Bistro in Halethorpe welcomes alcoholic beverages to accompany their menu. You may want to check with the owners to see if that is working out for them. If you are having difficulty attracting restauranteers because of the lack of liquor licensing, that's another issue, but I assure you that it was not an impediment to business at Waterm an's!

Thank you for the opportunity to comment and support your efforts to revitalize Catonsville! It's LONG overdue!

Sharon Jackson, lifelong Catonsville resident.

Anonymous said...

I am glad that you are doing such a service for the people of Catonsville. Some are writing on their computers, others are out supporting the existing businesses and hoping that you get off the mark so that we don't look like a depressed area where nobody wants to rent. Vacant buildings give the wrong impression.

On the Lighter Side!