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Baltimore County Council Debates Lifting Live Music Ban

José Eduardo Deboni // Flickr Creative Commons

A proposal to make live music legal in more of Baltimore County’s bars and restaurants is hitting a sour note among some council members who fear it could drive establishments out of business and create noise nuisances in neighborhoods.

Live music is illegal in much of Baltimore County because of zoning. That would change under the legislation proposed by Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski.

Michael Mohler, chief administrator of the county’s liquor board, told the county council Tuesday that under existing zoning laws, “hundreds of Baltimore County establishments are not permitted to host live musical entertainment.”

Mohler said because of the ban, “Local artists are missing out on valuable performance opportunities while county businesses lose potential revenue.”

The proposal, called the New Opportunities for Tourism and Entertainment (NOTE) Act, would increase the number of businesses that could apply for a live musical entertainment permit.

Democratic Councilwoman Cathy Bevins said more establishments having live music could open the door to more complaints from people who live nearby.

She said, “My concerns have been some smaller neighborhood bars that never had music, that may now have music, and really upset a community.”

Mohler said the original legislation will be amended to prohibit businesses with neighbors next door to have outside music. But Bevins, whose district includes Middle River, said that would adversely affect waterfront businesses in neighborhoods that for years have had outdoor music.

“These are not problematic establishments,” Bevins said. “You would be cutting them to the knees with this.”

Democratic County Councilman Julian Jones has an issue with part of the legislation that would allow authorities to shut down a business immediately. He said that would give officials the authority to do more than just tell a bar manager to turn down the music.

Jones said, “These people will be able to say ‘shut this operation down. I don’t care if you just ordered your food. I don’t care what. Everybody out.’”

Mohler said that would happen only if there is an immediate threat to health, safety and the general welfare of the community.

“A massive fight, gunshots, etc.,” Mohler said. “There is no intent whatsoever to shut down a business absent of something egregious.”

Republican Councilman Todd Crandell said he is concerned the legislation could have unintended consequences.

“I’m not sure this bill’s ready for prime time,” Crandell said.

But several people told the council that the legislation could help business owners and musicians alike who have been struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kelly Carter, who owns The Grind and Wine Café in Randallstown said they currently stream music but want to start having live jazz brunches.

“This has been a tough year to be in business as a restaurant owner,” Carter told the council. “Human beings connect to music.”

The council will take up the live music legislation again on April 19.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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