West Tisbury selectmen debate beer and wine license limits


In a final tune-up before annual town meeting Tuesday night, West Tisbury selectmen on April 6 reviewed an article that would allow restaurants to sell beer and wine.

Town leaders split over the language of a proposed amendment to the article that would allow selectmen to issue one-day beer and wine licenses for private and nonprofit-sponsored events.

The amendment is expected to be attached to an article allowing the sale of beer and wine in restaurants with a capacity of 50 people or more. The article would affect three West Tisbury restaurants: State Road, Lambert’s Cove Inn, and the Plane View at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport.

Selectmen added the amendment after receiving a legal opinion from town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport advising that alcohol cannot be legally served at fundraising events where tickets are sold, a common practice for years, especially in the summer.

The article and any amendments would need the approval of the state legislature. After that, they must be ratified by voters at the annual town election. The earliest the change could go into effect is April, 2012.

At their April 7 meeting last week, all three selectmen said they supported the general concept of the amendment, but clashed on whether the amendment should allow only nonprofits to serve beer and wine at fundraisers, or if it should be expanded to allow other groups to serve alcohol as well.

Selectmen reviewed a draft version of the amendment, prepared by Mr. Rappaport.

As written, the draft amendment allowed selectmen to issue one day liquor licenses for: “fundraising events for (not-for-profit institutions) where the service of alcohol is incidental to the event and where beer and wine is not separately purchased by attendees of event.”

Based on an earlier discussion with selectmen, Mr. Rappaport placed parentheses around the not-for-profit reference in order to provide a more restrictive option, one that two selectmen were unwilling to accept.

Chairman Richard Knabel and selectman Cynthia Mitchell wanted the language limiting the one-day beer/wine licenses to not-for-profits removed. Selectman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter said he wanted the language kept in.

“I think the counselor has heard my concerns, and he has written it so that [beer and wine] can be served at fundraisers for not-for-profit institutions. I think this means we can keep the status quo,” Mr. Manter said.

Mr. Knabel said the amendment would be more restrictive than the status quo. He cited several past fundraising events at the Ag Hall and Grange Hall where alcohol was served that were not sponsored by not-for-profit groups, including a fundraiser last year for the late Tom Osmers, town shellfish constable.

Mr. Knabel suggested selectmen draft regulations making it clear which events would be eligible for liquor licenses. “I would not like to see us change what are essentially past practices by restricting this more than we have in the past,” he said.

But Mr. Manter said he worried that removing the language would allow a wide range of groups to serve beer and wine at events. “I am nervous about opening that window, because it changes the historical character of this community,” he said.

Ms. Mitchell noted that selectmen would still have the final say over who receives a liquor license, and voters would have their say at town meeting and at the ballot box. Selectmen voted 2-1, Mr. Manter the lone dissenter, to remove the language limiting liquor licenses to not-for-profits.