Changes brewing as task force studies ways to energize Moco nightlife

Julie Verratti is an attorney by training, but her aspiration is to open a brew pub, where she can make beer and sell pints over the counter. The problem is she’d like to do it in Silver Spring, but Montgomery County doesn’t allow on-site consumption of alcohol without a restaurant license. Verratti wants only beer on the menu.

It seems to her like a no-brainer, especially for a county that is supposed to be courting the young demographic, which loves craft beer.

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“If the laws don’t change in Montgomery County you’re going to miss the boat,” Verratti told Montgomery’s Nighttime Economy Task Force, which has been studying ways to make the county more competitive with the District as an after-hours destination.

The 19-member task force, drawn by County Executive Isiah Leggett from land use law firms, businesses and the arts and entertainment sectors, is expected to finalize its recommendations in October after a series of hearings. Loosening regulations on where, when and how alcohol is consumed is likely to be a major focus.

The panel is looking at proposals to extend bar hours to match those in the District, where closing time is 2 a.m. Monday-Thursday and Sunday; 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday. In Montgomery, weekday and Sunday hours currently end at 1 a.m.; 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

“It’s not unusual for people to leave a place in Silver Spring or Bethesda (at closing time) and go to D.C.,” said Mike Diegel, a Silver Spring civic activist chairman of the arts and entertainment subcommittee. Diegel said his group was also considering proposals to relax noise restrictions in selected locations and loosen requirements that food comprise 50 percent of sales at drinking establishments.

There will almost certainly be push back. According to one task force member, Montgomery police are adamantly opposed to longer bar hours. The changes also would need to be funded, with extra money for DUI enforcement and more extensive transportation options (taxi stands, additional bus and train service) for bar patrons to get home safely.

Neighborhoods surrounding entertainment districts are likely to contest the easing of noise restrictions, even though the bulk of noise complaints come from construction and private residential parties, according to Diegel.

Other proposals in the works would encourage creation of more spaces for people to gather for arts and entertainment events, possibly by creating incentives for developers. Public parks could also be more imaginatively used as venues for nighttime activity.

“We’re building a case for any number of different kinds of changes,” said Council member Hans Riemer (D-At Large), an ex-officio member of the task force.

Verratti, whose day job is at the U.S. Small Business Administration, said she isn’t opposed to regulations. But she is hoping that the county will make it easier for her. While microbreweries have been surging in popularity, there also is a growing subset of brew pubs in places such as Denver and Milwaukee that don’t sell food.

“It doesn’t make sense that I’d have to sell food as a brewery,” she said.

A law passed this year by the General Assembly has cleared the way for on-site consumption at breweries. But the county’s legislative delegation will have to submit a bill next year. Kathie Durbin, chief of licensure, regulation and education for the Department of Liquor Control, said she supports the measure.

“We don’t have a problem with it,” Durbin said.

Verrati already has a name picked out: Citizens Brewing Co.

“Our priority is brewing good beer for great people,” she said.

 
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