Damascus votes to repeal ban on alcohol sales after nearly 80-year battle -- Gazette.Net


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This story was updated at 7 a.m. Nov. 7.

After an almost 80-year battle, supporters have prevailed in lifting a restriction on the sale of beer and wine in Damascus, which, until Tuesday, was the last dry town in Maryland.

At 1:22 a.m. Wednesday, with all precincts in Montgomery County’s 12th Election District reporting, the referendum passed with 6,678 votes for and 3,337 votes against, according to unofficial Montgomery County Board of Election results.

Ballots backing the repeal of the ban accounted for more than 66 percent of votes cast.

The passage of the referendum allows sit-down restaurants and hotels to apply for licenses to sell beer and light wine in town beginning on Dec. 19.

The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill in April calling for the referendum on the issue.

Montgomery County’s legislative District 14 delegation, which represents Damascus, decided to sponsor the bill after receiving numerous requests from residents.

“This is just the culmination of residents asking for something that they wanted to vote on in their town,” said Del. Craig Zucker (D-Dist.14) of Brookesville.

“We’re surprised that it’s as high as it was. I always said that it was a pretty divided issue,” said Jay Traverso, one of the people leading the effort to pass the referendum. “We’re happy .... I plan to be the first person to buy beer.”

Only registered voters in the county’s 12th Election District, which includes the town, were allowed to vote on the measure. Nearly 15,000 voters are registered in the district, with four of the district’s five precincts in Damascus.

“Many of my voters thought that this was going to be a great economic development for Damascus,” said Councilman Craig Rice (D.Dist. 2) of Germantown. “It’s certainly a plus. I think that there’s great things to come....”

Restaurants in the town looking to sell alcoholic beverages will have to apply for a Class liquor H license and be approved by the Montgomery County Board of License Commissioners, which regulates the sale and distribution of alcohol in the county.

A Class H license allows hotels and sit-down restaurants to sell beer and light wine from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. from Monday through Saturday, and from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sundays, according to the liquor board’s website.

The annual license fee is $400.

The measure will take effect 30 days after the official canvass of referendum votes, which is scheduled for Nov. 19, said Marjorie Roher, a spokeswoman for the county elections board.

Randy Anderson, owner of the Music Cafe in Damascus, said that he’s excited to apply for a license as soon as he can.

“I feel wonderful,” he said Tuesday night. “My plan is to start thinking about the changes to the cafe.... We’re definitely going to move to serving more meals on the weekend.”

Anderson held a 36-hour music marathon to raise awareness to the referendum question from Friday through Sunday. He said the cafe “was packed” most of the time during the marathon.

Even though he is excited to begin serving alcoholic beverages in the near future, Anderson said that he has received comments from patrons who said they won’t becoming back to his establishment.

“You’re not going to win them all,” he said.

“Whatever the voters want, but I think that its kind of unfortunate ... that the legacy of being a nice, safe quiet place wouldn’t continue,” said Bunny Galladora, state president of the Women Christian Temperance Union, which has been leading the opposition in the town. “It’s just a shame.”

Under the bill, licenses would not be issued to any restaurant where pool tables, billiard tables, shuffleboards, dart boards, video games, pinball machines or recreational devices are used.

Damascus has been dry since it’s founding in 1884, with voters rejecting alcohol referendums in 1933, 1976, 1984 and 1992.

A similar bill allowing alcohol sales was passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor in 1996. However, the measure also was defeated in a referendum vote later than year.

myoung@gazette.net