Board of Selectmen Examine Liquor Licensing
Faced with shrinking numbers of available licenses, Selectmen look into new regulations and increasing the quota.
The Brookline Board of Selectmen heard presentations on the town's liquor licensing laws last night, noting that the presentations were merely informational, and that hearings and debates are scheduled for the coming months. The Board's discussion of the laws will begin Sept. 13, with a public hearing on Sept. 27. The goal is to accept these laws by Oct. 4, in time for renewals later in the year.
"We are sort of flirting with running out of licenses in Brookline." commented Selectmen Chairperson Betsy DeWitt.
To address this, the Selectmen formed two subcommittees, one focusing on the number, or quota, of available licenses; one looking at the regulations of the licensees. Selectman Kenneth Goldstein headed up the quota discussions.
Currently, the number of liquor licenses is decided by a town's population. The calculation estimates one license per 1000 people, as assigned by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC). The town has 12 licenses each for "All kinds" package stores, for wine and malt beverage package stores, and for wine and malt beverages to assign to common victuallers. The town also has 63 all kinds licenses to assign to common victuallers--some of which have been assigned to places which serve only wine and malt beverages.
DeWitt added, "At the moment, for someone to open a food establishment and serve alcoholic beverages, it’s complicated--when you think of the approvals that you need--but it’s relatively cheap. I think we really benefit from the number and variety of places here, and I think it would be bad if it were capped by the number of licenses."
The subcomittee returned with three plans: one to request two more licenses for existing projects in Cleveland Circle and Brookline village, the second to seek 10 additional licenses so that Brookline does not run out, and the final plan would involve petitioning the General Court for the right to govern liquor licenses at a local level.
Goldstein also referenced a Globe editorial which called for the abolition of the ABCC, suggesting that this is not just a Brookline issue.
"Statewide, there seems to be a tendency to move away from state control of liquor licensing," he added
In fact, Westford State Representative Jim Arciero has recently filed a request for two additional licenses. State Senator Jennifer Flanagan has also filed a bill lowering the unit requirement for licenses from 1000 people to 750, which would increase the number of licenses by about 25%.
However, this would increase both pouring licenses and sales licenses, the letter, the Sub-committee feels should not change--their findings reference studies which show "that an excessive density of package stores can related to increase crime rates, [while] no such link has been made for pouring licenses." This was a concern for the subcommittee.
During the discussions, the subcommittee held a handful of public meetings, which Goldstein described as "poorly attended." He noted that the only two attendees were residents and liquor license holders in town.
“There doesn’t appear to be a great concern in this town,” Goldstein said. He added that the subcommittee took this low attendance as a positive sign, that residents are not concerned about the number of establishments.
Regulations for alcoholic beverages largely codified existing practices without making too many significant changes. For example, Police have requested that business owners maintain a notebook containing policy and training information for staff. This is now part of Brookline's liquor laws. Other changes include the prohibition of caffeinated beverages such as Four Loko (in accordance with State law), and that nips must be stored somewhere they can easily be watched by storekeepers.
Changes to the laws can be viewed on the Town Website, or as a PDF on this page. The Selectmen will further debate the changes and quotas at the September 13 meeting, and a public hearing will be held two weeks later, Sept. 27.