West Tisbury selectmen may ask voters at the April 12 annual town meeting to allow nonprofit groups to sell alcohol at fundraising events. The question would be posed in the form of an amendment to another planned article that would permit the sale of beer and wine in restaurants with a capacity of 50 people or more.
That article is on the warrant by petition and would affect three West Tisbury restaurants: State Road, Lambert’s Cove Inn, and the Plane View at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport. The article, if approved, would allow alcohol to be sold in town for the first time in more than a century.
Selectmen, at their meeting March 9, considered amending the beer/wine restaurant sales article, since town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport advised that alcohol cannot legally be served at any fundraising event where tickets are sold, a common practice for years, especially in the summer.
The ruling will affect fundraisers by nonprofit organizations and some gallery openings. Among the events affected, the Vineyard Nursing Association fundraiser and clambake, held annually at the Field Gallery, and other similar events at the Agricultural Hall, where wine and beer have traditionally been served, are examples.
The issue first came to light following a permit request last summer from Divas Uncorked, a Boston-based wine club that sponsored a four-day food and wine festival last August. The event prompted questions by selectmen and ultimately to the legal opinion from Mr. Rappaport.
Selectman Cynthia Mitchell said yesterday that the amendment would be introduced on the floor of town meeting. The main article allowing beer and wine sales and the amendment allowing nonprofits to serve alcohol at fundraisers will both need approval from the state legislature as well as from town voters.
The proposal would then need to be approved by voters at the next annual election, meaning the change would not go into affect until next spring at the earliest. Until that time, all nonprofits are prohibited from serving beer and wine at any fundraisers where money exchanges hands.
Ms. Mitchell said the amendment would allow the town to offer one-day liquor licenses for certain fundraising events. “This is an opportunity for us to let people know [about the amendment]; there are a number of nonprofits who count on these fundraisers,” she said.
Selectman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter, serving as acting chairman in the absence of Richard Knabel, who was ill, said he supported the general concept of the beer and wine article, as well as the amendment.
But he also cautioned against making such a drastic change without careful consideration.
“West Tisbury has been a dry town for all its life, or for a long time, and changing from being completely dry to some type of wetness is historically significant. We have to be careful about changing our unique character. We should be taking this carefully and giving this some thought,” he said.
Mr. Manter also warned against creating a bar-like atmosphere at fundraisers.
“I don’t mind opening that window slightly by allowing one-day beer and wine licenses for nonprofits. But I really don’t want to see, once you pay your admission ticket, and there is a separate area where you are actually selling beer and wine,” Mr. Manter said. “I support [serving] complimentary beer and wine. But I would be concerned where alcohol is sold for cash. But I think I can support this, if all we are doing is supporting past practices.”
Mr. Manter said he was also concerned that selectmen were amending an article that was placed on the warrant by petition. “I understand it’s an article by petition, it’s not really ours, and I understand that once it’s on the floor, it’s just like any other article,” he said. “But I am concerned we are using this as a mechanism to solve our problem.”
“I think what makes it work is that it would not restrict it, it would actually make it more flexible,” Ms. Mitchell responded.
Selectmen agreed to have Mr. Rappaport review the language of the proposed amendment before the town meeting.