Tisbury selectmen uphold paper plate ban in beer and wine rules

Pizza and beer but no plastic and paper allowed, Tisbury selectmen said Tuesday night — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Tisbury selectmen were adamant Tuesday night. If Rocco’s Pizzeria wants to sell beer and wine, pizza and sandwiches cannot be served on paper plates.

Selectmen voted Tuesday night to take no action on a proposed amendment to the town’s beer and wine rules to eliminate the requirement that establishments with beer and wine licenses serve meals on solid dinnerware with flatware.

The public hearing held during the selectmen’s regular meeting was the first challenge to the rules and regulations under the town’s beer and wine licensing policies, enacted in 2010 after voters approved beer and wine sales at the annual town election.

In addition to the requirement that beer and wine may only be served with a meal, the rules state, “Meals must be served on solid dinnerware with flatware. No disposable plates or plastic cutlery are permitted, except where State or local law requires.”

Selectman had originally issued the owners of Rocco’s Pizzeria, located in the Tisbury Marketplace, a license to serve beer and wine, based in part on the owner’s agreement to switch from paper plates.

The selectmen voted on January 23 not to renew Rocco’s beer and wine license because of non-compliance based on the absence of a dishwasher and use of paper plates. Selectmen subsequently learned they were incorrect with regard to the alcohol licensing regulations.

Given the confusion, at a meeting on April 3 the selectmen agreed to a request from Geoghan Coogan the restaurant’s attorney and a former selectman, to continue the hearing on Rocco’s license. The selectmen also agreed to hold a public hearing to consider the dinnerware and flatware regulation.

Time to change?

To provide some background at Tuesday’s hearing, selectman Tristan Israel said because the beer and wine question passed by a slim margin, the selectmen had added some formality to the rules and regulations to alleviate the concerns of opponents.

“I am happy about the way it’s working,” Mr. Israel said. “I would be opposed to loosening this up, because it makes it more casual, it makes it more possible to be a takeout kind of a thing.”

Mr. Coogan countered that Rocco’s use of paper plates has had no impact nor generated complaints, so why not change the bylaw.

Sam Dunn, co-owner of Saltwater Grill and Tisbury Marketplace developer, said he thought that restaurant owners with beer and wine licenses had proven they are being careful about compliance.

“I think most people would agree we haven’t even noticed it,” he said. “We didn’t have to hire five new people to police the harbor; the issue of public urination has not occurred,” he said.

“But at this point, all restaurants are not the same,” Mr. Dunn added. “Rocco’s is a pizza place; basically pizza is something you eat with your hands. And I think to in effect penalize a small informal place like this with regulations that don’t yield any benefit is once again making it difficult to do business in Tisbury.”

Several town residents waiting in the wings for a hearing on mooring rates willingly chimed in on the topic.

Nevin Sayre, interim dredge committee chairman, said all the rules, including the requirement for dinnerware, were a deciding factor for many voters.

“If you start changing them now, there are going to be a lot of people who are upset about it,” Mr. Sayre told the selectmen. “That vote was very close. So I think you’re headed down a slippery slope and you don’t want to change things that the town voted.”

Nat Benjamin, co-owner of Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway and a major opponent of the change, agreed.

“To change them now I think is quite unfair to the taxpayers, the citizens of the town, who this whole issue drove a wedge into in the past,” he said. “For you to just sort of slip this into a meeting and make this proposal I find is quite unpleasant and not really looking after the rest of the citizens of this town.”

Mr. Coogan clarified that the town voted in favor of beer and wine sales, but not on the rules and regulations, which were created by the selectmen.

“This meeting was not slipped through anybody’s back door, either; it was a public meeting process, advertised in the paper,” Mr. Coogan said.

“This meeting is to ask, is there a point to this particular portion of the regulations,” he added. “And so far, I haven’t heard anybody say if you allow an establishment to serve a burger in a plastic basket, that it’s somehow going to create a public disturbance or something that’s negatively going to impact the town.”

Lorraine Wells, who was there to discuss the Spring Building Preservation Committee’s business, said the community’s fear that the town’s character would be negatively impacted by beer and wine sales, with drunks wandering down Main Street, has proven unfounded.

“So it just seems to me after we’ve had time to get used to beer and wine in our town and seen that it hasn’t affected the character of our town, that we could be more flexible,” she said.

Selectmen’s opinions differ

Selectmen were divided on the issue. Selectman Jonathan Snyder sided with Mr. Israel. “I think things are working with the regulations we have; I don’t have big appetite to change the regulation,” he said.

When Mr. Israel made a motion to take no action, selectman chairman Jeff Kristal said he had hoped to vote yes on a motion to change the regulation.

“I hear you, but I also think it’s time,” Mr. Kristal said. “If change is going to occur, I think this is a pretty innocuous one to change, since it’s already happening.”

He did join Mr. Israel and Mr. Snyder in making the vote unanimous to take no action.

Afterwards, the selectmen reopened a continued hearing regarding the non-renewal of Rocco’s license. After a very brief discussion, they agreed to Mr. Coogan’s request to continue the hearing to May 21, to give the restaurant’s owners time to consider making the investment to switch from paper to hard plates.