2021 | Government

Montgomery County expects to allow alcohol in some parks again

Legal opinion says Park and Planning Commission has authority to continue program

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Montgomery County’s parks department is working on allowing people to drink alcohol in some parks again, after ending the program over the summer.

The county launched its Picnic in the Park initiative last year, which allowed people to consume alcohol in select parks. The program was meant to support struggling businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The planning board renewed the program after a trial run, but in July, the parks department ended Picnic in the Park due to the lifting of Maryland’s COVID-19 state of emergency. During the state of emergency, open container laws and others were suspended.

On Sept. 30, Associate County Attorney Kathryn Lloyd sent a legal opinion to Council Member Evan Glass saying that alcohol consumption could continue after the state of emergency expired if approved by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC).

The opinion states that Maryland law generally prohibits the consumption of alcoholic beverages on public property, but exceptions can be made if a local government entity allows alcohol to be served. This includes the M-NCPPC, which has authority over all parks on land owned by the county.

The opinion concludes that due to a 1972 agreement giving M-NCPPC jurisdiction over parks on county land, the commission can authorize the consumption of alcohol on park property through a directive by the parks director.

“In order to continue the program, M-NCPPC can provide authorization for the consumption of alcoholic beverages in the park. Certain licensed establishments are then permitted to deliver alcohol with food in a limited quantity,” the opinion states.

Glass had advocated for the resumption of Picnic in the Park and had asked the County Attorney’s Office for an opinion, his chief of staff, Valeria Carranza, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Thursday.

On Tuesday, Glass posted on Twitter that Parks Director Mike Riley told the council that Picnic in the Park would resume. Riley replied by thanking Glass for “helping us get a clearer picture on a very complex set of state & local alcohol laws.”

Parks spokeswoman Melissa Chotiner wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Wednesday that the department is reviewing the opinion from the County Attorney’s Office.

“We are working out some logistics but plan to resume the program soon. We’ll share more information as soon as we have it,” she wrote.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com