CITY OF GAITHERSBURG

The city's ban on the sale of cheap, highly potent wines will begin July 1, Mayor W. Edward Bohrer and the City Council decided last week.

The ban, which was recommended by counselors and a volunteer group working with the city's homeless, is intended to encourage the city's alcoholic homeless to seek substance abuse treatment by removing the supply of their most popular drinks.

In recent years merchants have complained about vagrancy and drunkenness in the Olde Towne section of Gaithersburg.

City officials expect the ban to be in effect for one year while they monitor its effectiveness.

The ban, which will apply to private beer and wine retail stores as well as those operated by Montgomery County, will prohibit the sale of wines with alcohol contents above the usual 13 to 14 percent. The so-called "fortified wines" targeted by the ban contain levels of at least 18 percent. The brands include Thunderbird, Night Train, Wild Irish Rose and MD 20/20.

City officials said at a June 11 meeting that a decision to continue the ban beyond the one-year trial period will depend on its impact, such as whether more homeless alcoholics are found to be seeking treament and whether sales of beer and more expensive alcoholic beverages increase.

Officials also hope the temporary ban will result in fewer incidents involving teenagers and alcohol use. Teenage drinkers are said to favor the wines that will be banned because they are priced low and often have a sweet taste.

The Gaithersburg ban will be the first of its kind in the area, although similar measures have been attempted, with limited success, in several West Coast cities.

CITY OF ROCKVILLE

The city's free summer playground program opens Monday and continues from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 to 4 p.m. weekdays through August at 15 sites around the city. The program offers crafts, sports and games for children ages 5 to 16.

The program also offers special weekly or biweekly events swimming, field trips and a summer concert series.

Free lunches are available at some of the playgrounds. For more information, call 424-8000, ext. 340.