West Tisbury ponders future with beer and wine

— File photo by Mae Deary

West Tisbury selectmen at their regular meeting on March 21 performed a final review of draft beer and wine regulations in anticipation of a vote at the annual town election to allow beer and wine to be sold in restaurants for the first time in more than 100 years.

Although selectmen approved the draft regulations, agreeing to a number of changes in the process, they will still go through one more round of public scrutiny before they are finalized. Selectmen have scheduled a public forum on the draft regulations on Wednesday, April 4, at town hall.

The regulations could still be amended during and after the public forum, after which they will go before voters at the annual town meeting on April 10 for a final vote. The regulations will only go into effect if voters approve a ballot question at the town-wide election two days later to allow the sale of beer and wine in restaurants.

The draft regulations were modeled after similar beer and wine rules adopted in Tisbury and Aquinnah, which both approved the sale or beer and wine in restaurants in recent years.

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, the Lambert’s Cove Inn, and the Plane View Restaurant at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport.

The ballot question would also only allow beer and wine to be served when a meal is served. It would also authorize selectmen to issue one-day licenses for the sale of beer and wine at fundraising events.

The issue of alcohol service arose after town counsel Ron Rappaport advised selectmen the town could not legally allow alcohol to be served at fundraisers and privately hosted events where alcohol will be served when money will change hands.

There are many people in town who support allowing one-day beer and wine licenses for fundraisers, but do not support the sale of beer and wine in restaurants, and therefore do not believe the two issues should be combined onto one ballot.

As a result, another article was placed on the warrant of the town meeting by way of a petition asking to allow the sale of beer to be served at fundraising events but not sold in restaurants.

Final changes

Selectmen last reviewed the draft regulations on February 22, during which time selectman Richard Knabel said 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.

At the regular selectmen’s meeting on March 21, Ms. Rand said she consulted officials at the ABCC and learned the town only had control over some key areas of beer and wine regulations of their town, while the rest was essentially regulated by the state.

Selectmen by right can establish things like hours of operation, define what is a seasonal license, and determine if a restaurant could serve beer in a pitcher or place signage on their establishment advertising the sale of alcohol.

Ms. Rand also said the state also allows selectmen to define what constitutes a meal, to set a waiting period after an application for a beer and wine license is denied, and to determine what type of training restaurant employees must go through for the serving of alcohol.

But Ms. Rand said that she also learned of a state requirement that could prove to be a major wrinkle for nonprofits seeking a one-day liquor license. She reported that one-day licenses require alcohol to be purchased, delivered, and then picked up by an alcohol wholesaler approved by the state.

The problem is there are no approved wholesalers on the Island, and the closest two are in Hyannis and Orleans, Ms. Rand said. The state law also requires the alcohol to be kept on the property where the function is being held from the time it is delivered to when it is picked up.

“Whether beer and wine passes at the ballot or not, I suspect in practice what will happen is nothing will change from the way it is today,” Ms. Rand said. “Because it is not practical to have nonprofits getting a wholesaler here.”

Selectmen said the state law was ill-conceived and overkill. “This is about as ridiculous a situation as I’ve ever seen,” Mr. Knabel said.

“It makes it almost impossible,” chairman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter said.

On the suggestion of selectman Cynthia Mitchell, the board agreed to add a clause allowing organizations that would rather supply their own — provided no money exchanges hands — to be exempted from the new law and continue what they have done in the past. “You might want to make it an option not to get a one-day license,” she said.

The exemption, if approved, still would not allow any organizations to sell tickets to an event where alcohol is expected to be served. These organizations would either have to provide the alcohol for free or have their guests bring their own.

Selectmen did agree to make some changes to the regulations from Aquinnah and Tisbury, changing the length of a seasonal license for businesses to April 1 to December 1. They also agreed to ban signage advertising alcohol and the service of beer in pitchers.

Selectmen agreed to establish hours of alcohol service from 11 am to 11 pm, with a provision that all glasses and bottles must be removed by 11:30 pm.

Mr. Manter said he worried 11 pm might be too late, noting that Lambert’s Cove Inn and State Road Restaurant are both in residential neighborhoods. Mary Kenworth, owner of State Road, said dinner service ends at 10 pm and doubted people would be ordering up until 11 p. on most days.

When beer and wine regulations were last discussed in February selectmen got caught on how to define the meal that must accompany the beer and wine. Selectmen said the regulations from Tisbury and Aquinnah did more to define what wasn’t a meal instead of what was a meal.

“Didn’t we beat this to death last time?” Ms. Rand asked when the discussion turned to the meal question.

But on this go-round selectmen did not get bogged down too much on the details, and quickly agreed that a soup and a salad served together constitutes a meal, while snack foods like chips, pretzels, or nuts did not.

The final beer and wine forum for the public will take place April 4 at 4:30 pm at town hall.