Tisbury reviews proposed beer and wine regs
A review of possible beer and wine licensing regulations spilled over from the 45 minutes it was expected to require to almost two and a half hours, at the Tisbury selectmen's meeting Tuesday.
The painstaking review of the entire thirteen and a half page draft document, section by section, occasionally went flat over issues such as whether to allow television sets in a restaurant, and if so, how many and how big.
About 30 people attended the work session intended to illuminate a question to be put to voters at the April 27 town election ballot. Voters will be asked to approve a special act of the legislature authorizing the selectmen to grant beer and wine licenses to eligible restaurants. If it passes, the selectmen want to have the regulations in place, because they expect restaurant owners will want to get a jump on the summer season by applying immediately for licenses.
As selectman chairman Tristan Israel explained in opening the discussion, the town drafted alcohol licensing policies, rules and regulations two years ago in preparation for the possibility of approval of a similar ballot question in April 2008. The regulations were shelved when the question was defeated by two votes.
"This is not a discussion of whether you're for beer and wine or against beer and wine in Tisbury," Mr. Israel told the audience. "This is a discussion of the regulations the selectmen would promulgate if the question passes."
The ballot question approved by state legislators asks, "Shall the board of selectmen of the town of Tisbury be authorized to grant 19 licenses for the sale of wines and malt beverages to be drunk on the premises of restaurants, including restaurants within inns and hotels, with seating capacities of not less than 30 persons, to be consumed with meals only, and only to patrons who are seated at dining tables, and to grant seasonal licenses for the same as the selectmen may determine?"
Although the 2008 ballot question was similar, the 2010 ballot question specifies 19 beer and wine licenses. As the selectmen learned this time around, according to Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 138, Section 17, the legislation must stipulate how many year-round licenses a town may issue.
As a result, they developed a list of 19 Vineyard Haven restaurants that might meet the eligibility requirements for a beer and wine license, based on seating capacity and the capability to convert to dining and wait staff services.
Several people expressed concern about the town having no cap on seasonal licenses. However, Mr. Israel assured them that the number of seasonal licenses issued would be up to the selectmen, and that only a limited number of restaurants could meet the eligibility criteria anyway. Another limiting factor for downtown Vineyard Haven restaurants is that the number of seats is tied to sewer flow allowances, Mr. Israel said.
Attorney Howard Miller, who served as chairman of the State's Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) in the late 1960s and early 1970s, offered clarifications and suggestions as the regulations were reviewed and familiar issues from many previous discussions rehashed.
Rob Doyle, a finance and advisory committee member, asked whether the selectmen had considered issuing only seasonal licenses. Selectman Jeff Kristal explained that year-round licenses might be an enticement to restaurants to stay open during the winter, which benefits the community.
Although the question of how many year-round licenses the selectmen should issue was discussed, no one raised the issue that given the town's current acquiescence to bring-your-own-bottle alcohol consumption by restaurant patrons, alcohol may be consumed in all of Tisbury's restaurants, without limit.
A regulation aimed at keeping Tisbury restaurants from resembling bars, by limiting television sets to 15 inches, generated one of the lengthiest debates. When Mr. Israel asked for suggestions, a woman at the back of the room yelled out "42 inches," as if she were at an auction. Harriet Barrow countered with the idea that it was the level of noise, not the size of the TV that mattered.
Joe Tierney pointed out that the way the regulation is written, since it limits size but not number, a restaurant could have a whole room full of 15-inch TVs. Harold Chapdelaine, who protested televisions in restaurants altogether, proposed a compromise of allowing one 36-inch television per eatery. Selectman Geoghan Coogan ended the stalemate with the suggestion that televisions should be reviewed as part of a restaurant's floor plan.
Discussion about enforcement of the regulations, and whether and how enforcement would be practiced, also sparked some lively debate. Mr. Coogan and Mr. Kristal expressed confidence in the Tisbury police department's abilities to enforce the regulations and said future discussions would focus on how to do that.
At the work session's conclusion, Mr. Israel thanked everyone for restraint in avoiding philosophical debates. If the ballot question passes, the selectmen said they would hold another public discussion before approving the final alcohol licensing policies, rules and regulations.