Town Council Votes to Request More Liquor Licenses from the State

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The Town Council approved a request to the State Legislature to add more liquor licenses in an effort to attract more economic development in Watertown.

Last week, the Council voted to request 15 new liquor licenses. The town has 34 licenses allotted by the state based on the town’s population, but communities can request additional licenses by submitting special legislation and have it approved by lawmakers at the State House.

The members of the Rules & Ordinances, Economic Development & Planning, and Public Safety subcommittees recommended 15 new licenses, including five for designated projects or locations. One of those – the Arsenal on the Charles complex – was removed.

Town Council President Mark Sideris said athenahealth, owners of the Arsenal on the Charles, had bought two of the existing liquor licenses for restaurants in the complex. Councilors already knew of one that is being used for a beer garden behind Panera Bread, but did not know about the second. One of the licenses will go to the Pleasant Street Corridor, on the Westside of town.

The four designated spots are:

  • a new mixed-use development on Howard Street
  • the new Residence Inn by Marriott hotel approved to go on Arsenal Street
  • the Arsenal Center for the Arts, and
  • the new complex at 202-204 Arsenal Street

Unlike the current licenses, the new ones will not be transferable. If a restaurant stops using it or goes out of business, they return to the town which will issue it. Users will pay an annual fee on top of the license fee. Watertown Director of Community Development and Planning said the money will likely go toward improving business districts.

The fee is also designed to make them more economically in line with the existing licenses, which owners buy for up to $75,000.

“A lot of people spend a lot of money on them,” said Councilor Ken Woodland. “For us to come in and flood the market with new licenses and devalue the current ones would be absolutely ridiculous for us to do.”

The other 10 licenses will be issued in designated geographic areas of town:

  • Arsenal North (area behind the Watertown Mall and along part of Arsenal Street),
  • the west end of Pleasant Street, South Square (south of the Charles near Galen Street)
  • Union Market (the area along Arsenal Street across from Toyota of Watertown)
  • Coolidge Hill (the area off Arlington and Grove streets and Coolidge Avenue)
  • Two of the licenses can go to Watertown Square and/or Coolidge Square, but neither is guaranteed a license.

Councilor Susan Falkoff asked why restaurants in other areas, such as the new one on Lexington Street called Royal, could not get one of the new licenses.

Magoon said some of the current licenses will likely become available.

“By making these available, theoretically there would be less of a market for existing licenses,” Magoon said. “And one of the licenses may be available for the establishment.”

The Council voted 8-0 (with Vincent Piccirilli abstaining) to approve requesting 14 new licenses.

Councilor Aaron Dushku has requested that the town look into issuing bring-your-own alcohol licenses to restaurants that do not have liquor licenses. This will be discussed at an upcoming subcommittee meeting.

{NOTE: The story previously mistakenly stated that the Council reduced the number of liquor licenses from 15 to 14.}

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