Three Town Council subcommittees met last week to shore up the details of the town’s request to the State Legislature for more liquor licenses, but by the end of the meeting Councilors had not made a decision.
At a previous meeting, the members of the Rules & Ordinances, Economic Development & Planning, and Public Safety subcommittees, discussed asking for 15 new licenses. Five would go to approved projects or existing locations. The other 10 would be divvied up among different areas of town.
Last week, however, the group was not sure how to handle the forthcoming requests for liquor licenses from the Arsenal Project (formerly Arsenal Mall) for new restaurants. The project will not likely be built for at least two years, and the 15 licenses may be claimed by then, said Town Council President.
The subcommittees had discussed going back to the state when the Arsenal Project renovation plans are ready. Sideris asked the subcommittees to think about whether 15 liquor licenses plus more for the mall would be too many new ones.
Watertown currently has 34, which were awarded by the state based on the population of the town. Communities can request additional ones through a special act passed by the Legislature. The Council has been discussing adding more licenses to encourage developers to build on unused sites or redevelop buildings.
Councilors requested that the areas be defined so businesses and developers will know where the licenses can be used.
Council Vice President Steve Corbett reminded his fellow members that at previous meetings they heard from current liquor license holders who worried that their licenses would be devalued by all the new ones.
“We had a lot of existing business owners opposed to just opening this up (to having lots of new licenses),” Corbett said.
The existing licenses can be sold by one owner to another, and have reportedly sold for more than $100,000. The subcommittee decided at a prior meeting that they would not allow the new licenses to be sold, and instead would lease them out.
They discussed having a fee of about $5,000 annually, but they had not decided where the money would go. It must be spent on something related to the reason for charging the fee, Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said.
Steve Magoon, Assistant Town Manager, said in Dedham they created an economic development fund with the fees from new liquor licenses. Councilor Susan Falkoff said she would want to know specifically how the money would be spent before committing to such a fund.
The Council will also have to decide how to award the new licenses. A lottery had been suggested, but Corbett said he is not sure how many people would be ready to apply when the licenses become available.
Watertown Police Sgt. Tom Grady, who oversees licensing for the Police Department, said if there is an available liquor licenses it would be given out on a first-come-first-served basis. Most of the time, however existing licenses are passed from one business to another.
Piccirilli suggested leaving out the lottery detail from the request to the Legislature.
“The less specific the better. We can change thing from time to time (at the town level) when needed but if it is in the special legislation then we are stuck with it until we do another special state act,” Piccirilli said.
The subcommittees did not vote on the request for new liquor licenses. The groups will meet again in November or early December to continue the discussion.
They plan to invite Donna Doucette, the chairwoman of the Watertown Licensing Board, Town Clerk John Flynn (whose office administers the licenses) and Police Chief Edward Deveau to the meeting so they can give input on the new licenses.