Little effect if Tisbury gets wet
After eight months of meetings, interviews, surveys, research, and discussion, Tisbury's beer and wine review committee (BWRC) has concluded that there would be little or no impact on the town, its taxpayers or the overall business community, if beer and wine were served in Vineyard Haven restaurants and inns.
In light of their findings, the committee recommended that the Tisbury selectmen consider a Home Rule Petition (HRP) to the state legislature to allow the town to define the parameters for beer and wine sales, if voters agree that they are interested in pursuing the issue.
The committee members presented their findings in a 19-page executive summary and report at the Tisbury selectmen's meeting Tuesday night. The report included summaries of interviews with town department heads and community members, business and taxpayer survey results, reports about "wet" and "dry" towns, and information about state legislation and regulations regarding beer and wine sales.
A year ago, Stephen Perlman, who was then president of the Tisbury Business Association (TBA), asked the selectmen to appoint the committee to study the potential impact of alcohol sales on the town, at the request of TBA members who supported a proposal to allow the limited sale of beer and wine in local Vineyard Haven restaurants.
(The entire report may be found here)
The selectmen appointed the eight-member committee in January. BWRC chairman John Coskie said that the committee focused on its charge from the selectmen not to approach the issue as a matter of yes or no, but instead to identify the costs, benefits, detriments, and impacts of the change that beer and wine sales might have on the town of Tisbury.
To accomplish this, committee members considered four issues: the financial impact on the town and its taxpayers, the impact on the business community, the experiences of other towns that changed from "dry" to "wet," and the impact of beer and wine sales on the character of the town.
The committee conducted two surveys, one for businesses and one for taxpayers. The business survey consisted of five questions addressing the positive and negative effects on revenue, staffing, and hours and season of operation that beer and wine sales might have. Mailed to 505 registered businesses in early March, the survey generated 119 responses. Results showed that in general, business owners were of the opinion that beer and wine sales would largely benefit restaurants, hotels or inns, or retail stores, and would have a minimal impact on other businesses overall.
The report said the committee agreed they may have "over-engineered" the taxpayer's survey, which was mailed out with tax bills in June, one per household. From written responses and comments made by community members, including selectman chairman Tristan Israel, it became apparent that the survey's first two questions proved confusing for many.
Question one asked respondents to rank the importance of factors such as increased traffic, parking, and the movie theater, in addition to beer and wine served in restaurants, in having a positive impact on the character of the town. The second question asked respondents to rank the same factors in terms of their negative impact on the character of the town.
Despite the skewed results from those questions, the taxpayer's survey responses included the following:
About 45 percent of respondents said being able to bring their own beer and wine was not a factor in deciding whether to dine in Tisbury more frequently than in "wet" towns.
About 29 percent said they dined in Edgartown or Oak Bluffs restaurants more frequently because of the availability of beer and wine.
A movie theater was picked as having the highest positive impact on the character of the town and increased traffic as having the highest negative impact.
The concern that introducing beer and wine sales in restaurants will lead to bars in Tisbury was ranked as the greatest concern, while late-night crowds and noise was of lowest concern.
Quality of food ranked highest and the availability of beer and wine lowest among factors people felt impacted most on where they dine.
The committee's report indicated the results from the taxpayer survey were not statistically valid, partly due to the problem that it elicited opinion rather than quantifiable data. However, in looking at the responses, the committee it said it was clear that people wanted to be asked for their opinion on whether they were for or against beer and wine sales.
"The charge of the committee was to understand the impact, not the opinion," the report stated. "The committee feels the best place for opinion is at the ballot box."
The committee voted 6-0 in favor of the report (with one abstention by Nancy Hall) and its conclusion that the beer and wine sales would have little or no impact on the town. However, committee member Gretchen Snyder added that although the impact of the sales on the character of the town involved emotional issues, the committee did not address the matter of town character.
Sherman Goldstein, owner of the Mansion House and one of the interested TBA members, asked the selectmen what happens next.
"We don't know yet," said Mr. Israel. "If someone in the community wants to draft an article for town meeting, they can do that." He added, however, that he is ambivalent about beer and wine sales in Tisbury, and will not "lead the charge."
In a phone call yesterday, Mr. Perlman said he was encouraged by the committee's report, which confirmed many of the same findings the Tisbury Business Association discovered when the business group researched the question of beer and wine sales.
"I think the selectmen made it clear they are looking for members of the community to come to them with ideas about how to proceed, if there is any interest at all," Mr. Perlman said. He added that he and other members of the business community that he knows are interested "would look to the rest of the community to come with us and make this something that can be decided by the town in a way that can be beneficial to the town."
The committee's report recommended that the selectmen consider the HRP option, which would allow the town more control in setting its own limits for beer and wine sales, and allow the selectmen to make decisions on licensing issues.
An HRP approved by voters at town meeting allows a petition to the General Court under the Home Rule Amendment, requesting allowance for the sale of beer and wine within certain parameters determined by the local selectmen or their representatives. If the legislature approves the town's final petition, it would then come back for a final vote in Tisbury. A local licensing board would then be created to administer the town's rules and regulations, with licensing fees covering administration and enforcement costs.
Selectman Tom Pachico suggested that community members who are interested in pursuing the next step should put together an HRP with parameters suggested by the BWRC, hold a public meeting to hash out the issues, and then put an article together for the town meeting warrant next spring.
Mr. Pachico also cautioned that once Tisbury residents act to allow beer and wine sales in restaurants, the "bring your own" option is gone. "You can't have it both ways," he warned. He also suggested looking at some sample rules and regulations that Tisbury might consider.
The other option is for a minimum of 10 percent of registered Tisbury voters to sign a petition provided by the Secretary of the Commonwealth authorizing him to place a "yes" or "no" question on the bi-annual state election ballot regarding granting licenses in Tisbury for the sale of wines and malt beverages.
If approved by voters, the state would allow Vineyard Haven five full beer and wine licenses and an unlimited number of seasonal licenses. Those run from April 1 to Nov. 30, unless extended at the discretion of the town to no later than Jan. 15 of the following year.