A group of parents is trying to block an eatery at Blades ice rink in Rockville from obtaining a license to sell wine and beer, saying that alcohol shouldn't be served at a venue where children play hockey.
The controversy has divided the Montgomery Youth Hockey Association, pitting the angry parents against the leaders of the nonprofit organization, which is assuming a 20-year master lease of Blades, said the rink's owner, Stuart Schooler.
"They have betrayed us," said Brenda Willett, the most vocal opponent of alcohol at the rink, referring to the leaders of the hockey association.
The president of Montgomery Youth Hockey, Brian Melnick, did not return phone calls asking for comment, and Bob Weiss, the general manager, said no one would speak on behalf of the organization.
But Schooler said the board of Montgomery Youth Hockey strongly supports the liquor license application. "They've endorsed it," he said. "You need cash flow to make your numbers work for the master lease."
The license, if approved, would be granted to the Village Grille, an eatery owned by Lewis Warsaw. But Warsaw also faces substantial legal hurdles in addition to opposition from some parents.
A Rockville zoning ordinance bans the sale and consumption of alcohol at ice rinks, and the city's Planning Commission voted 5 to 0 on June 23 to deny Warsaw an exemption. The Rockville Board of Appeals will review the decision Saturday.
The county Board of License Commissioners, which will decide whether to grant the liquor license, decided last Thursday to postpone its final vote until after the Rockville Board of Appeals resolves the issue.
The matter will probably end up in court if Rockville denies the appeal. Warsaw said the city's zoning ordinance violates the Maryland constitution by infringing on the county's ability to regulate alcohol.
"It's unconstitutional for the city of Rockville to decide whether an establishment gets a beer and wine license," he said.
Warsaw said he is confident that Montgomery County will allow him to serve wine and beer if the zoning issue is resolved. "I'm almost 100 percent sure that we had the votes to get the license until this Rockville ordinance came up," he said.
Willett said she will work feverishly to prevent alcohol from being served. From a moral standpoint, she said, liquor shouldn't be available at a rink used by children.
"I don't see the point of having alcohol there," she said. "It's a children's venue."
Warsaw and Schooler, however, said there are many parents who would like a place to sip a glass of Chardonnay while their children play hockey. Underage drinking shouldn't be a concern, they said, as long as parents are responsible.
"This is not a day care service," Schooler said. "These people have no business just dropping their kids off."
Willett has succeeded in mobilizing some parents to oppose the license, spurring them to join her in calling officials, writing letters and attending hearings. She said more parents would be involved if the youth hockey season hadn't ended months ago.
But Warsaw said many parents have told him they support the liquor license application. "My wife and I have talked to literally hundreds of parents who would love to have beer and wine there," he said.
Willett -- who has two children, ages 9 and 13, playing on Montgomery Youth Hockey teams -- said she is cutting short a vacation to Maine to attend the hearing Saturday.
"I feel very sorry for Mr. Warsaw," she said, "but you know that old adage: buyer beware."
Warsaw says he never expected such vehement opposition. "I'm going to get the restaurant going, do the best I can," he said. " It's out of my hands now."
He pauses when asked whether he would have purchased the eatery had he known the legal difficulties and parental opposition.
"Probably not," he said.