In anticipation of an April vote to allow beer and wine to be served in West Tisbury restaurants for the first time in 100 years, selectmen, at their regular meeting on February 22, reviewed draft regulations that would control the sale of alcohol.
Selectmen used the beer and wine regulations from the towns of Tisbury and Aquinnah — identical for the most part — as the template for the town’s new rules.
In 2008, Aquinnah voters eased into the sale of beer and wine with nary a hiccup. It was a different story in Tisbury where the issue was hotly debated for years before being approved in 2010.
Tisbury selectmen adopted a restrictive set of rules intended to calm the fears of those who had opposed the measure. For example, the rules define a meal, and selectmen have the right to approve a licensee’s menu and decide what constitutes a meal. The rules do not allow a licensed restaurant to have a television larger than 36 inches in size.
Selectman Richard Knabel was unwilling to adopt the rules wholesale. Mr. Knabel said that the regulations were redundant, unnecessarily specific and at times silly. Selectmen agreed to table the rules discussion until a future meeting.
Selectmen asked town administrator Jen Rand to get a copy of the state application to the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) for the sale of beer and wine in restaurants, to get a better idea of how they should craft their regulations and prevent redundancy.
“It should be nice to know what is required to be in here, and what is required when you fill out the state application anyway,” selectman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter said. “Why should we waste our time just talking about things that have to be in there anyway?”
The issue of alcohol service arose after town counsel Ron Rappaport advised selectmen that the town could not legally allow alcohol to be served at fundraisers and similar privately hosted events because the town does not allow the sale of alcohol, and so it cannot issue a permit for an event where alcohol will be served when money will change hands.
Voters at town meeting last year approved an article to file a home rule petition with the state legislature to make West Tisbury a “wet” town. In October, Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation authorizing the town to place the beer and wine question on the ballot for the town election in April.
If approved, selectmen would be authorized to issue licenses for the sale of beer and wine to restaurants with 50 seats or more, which currently applies only to State Road Restaurant, Lambert’s Cove Inn, and the Plane View Restaurant at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport.
Selectmen would also be authorized to issue one-day licenses for the sale of beer and wine at fundraising events.
In addition to the ballot question, voters will also consider new beer and wine regulations at the annual town meeting. Selectmen this week said they will host a final public forum on the beer and wine regulations before the annual town meeting.
But selectmen still have to draft those regulations, and if the discussion at their regular meeting last week was any indication, they have their work cut out for them.
What’s in a meal
Mr. Knabel said he was reluctant to use the regulations from Tisbury and Aquinnah. “I went through both of these, and I don’t think these regulations should turn out to be burdensome to the restaurant owners in town,” he said. “If the voters go along with this, we have no more than three that fit the criteria of this legislation, and more likely, it will be two. These regulations were passed by two other towns, and they have their reasons . . . but they strike me as being somewhat overkill.”
Mr. Knabel said some requirements imposed on restaurants in the regulations were already in place in West Tisbury. “Some of these provisions in the two existing regulations are redundant, because the board of health and building department already are responsible for the enforcement of these codes,” he said. “Why a lot of that has to be repeated again in these regulations, I don’t know.”
Mr. Knabel read from the section of the regulations stating that “the board reserves the right to approve a licensee’s menu and further define what constitutes a meal consistent with these policies.” He questioned if selectmen should get involved with the inner-workings of the restaurant trade.
“The town should not be in the business of micro-managing restaurants…. I don’t think this board should…be in the business of approving a menu,” he said.
Mr. Knabel also cited the section of the regulations defining what constitutes a meal. “Single servings of soups, side salads, other side dishes, or desserts shall not be considered a meal, except that this requirement shall not preclude multiple servings to patrons from the above list…. [A] meal shall not consist of items such as potato chips, corn chips, nuts, pretzels of other so-called snack foods customarily served with beer and wine beverages in a bar or cocktail lounge.”
Mr. Knabel said the regulations went into great detail about what wasn’t a meal, but not much detail about what was a meal. Mr. Manter questioned why soup and salad, ordered together, should not constitute a meal.
“It’s saying that soup and salad together are a meal,” Ms. Rand answered. “Basically it’s saying that you can make a meal out of side dishes… it’s trying to write in words what is common sense.”
Selectman Cynthia Mitchell said the regulations did at least attempt to define what a meal is. “Nobody is confused about what this says, right?” she said. “You can’t have potato chips and make that a meal, and you can’t have a dessert as a meal. In other words, it’s not like going to a bar. Somebody has to serve you on a plate and it has to look like dinner, lunch or breakfast,” she said.
Mary Kenworth, co-owner of State Road Restaurant, agreed. “Ultimately, you’re putting on the written page what is common sense, so you are not a bar,” she said.
Building inspector Ernie Mendenhall suggested that the regulations should go into too much detail rather than not enough. “As a zoning official, I have found that when contention comes up, common sense goes out the window, if something is not written down,” he said.
“Having this spelled out, even though wordy, allows the enforcement officer to make the call,” Ms. Rand said. “Is it likely someone is going into these restaurants for beer nuts? Probably not.”
Selectmen struggled with other sections of the regulations, debating whether to leave in language stipulating when public hearings should be held, and what to charge to process application for beer and wine licenses.
They also debated the section requiring a plan of operation, which calls for the applicants to submit details about the type of facility, their experience and qualifications, the proposed menu and manner in which the food is prepared.
Ms. Kenworth noted the application to the state Alcohol Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) already requires such a detailed plan.