Watertown diners will have the option of bringing their own alcohol to some of their favorite restaurants after the Town Council adopted the bring your own bottle ordinance on Tuesday.
People will have to wait several months, at least, before they can start bringing wine or beer to enjoy with their meal. The Council passes an amendment that delayed the start of the ordinance until April 1, 2016.
The ordinance met some resistance on the council as well as from others. The vote was 6-3 to approve BYOB, with Councilor President Mark Sideris, and councilors Steve Corbett and Angeline Kounelis voting “No.”
The ordinance requires the staff at the restaurant to take the bottles when customers arrive, and pour the drinks. They would also have to make sure people consuming alcohol are 21 or older, and not to over serve patrons.
Acting Police Chief Ray DuPuis said he worries that the Police Department won’t be able to handle enforcing BYOB along with the existing 34 liquor licenses and a possible 15 more for which the town has applied to the State Legislature in a Home Rule Petition. Right now there is only one officer overseeing all the licensing enforcement.
“I am not necessarily opposed to BYOB, but I would like to see it tabled for a while to see if the 15 licenses come to be, or don’t come to be, and see what happens,” DuPuis said.
Kounelis also worried about the enforcement of the ordinance, and said other town ordinances have not been enforced due to lack of personnel.
Councilor Aaron Dushku said the Watertown Police were part of the discussions of the ordinance at the joint meeting of the Economic Development & Planning, Rules & Ordinances and Public Safety subcommittees.
“We had open communication with the police,” Dushku said. “To hear you want to delay it is concerning. I think this is solid legislation.”
Councilors supporting the ordinance said that the Licensing Board has authority to enforce the BYOB ordinance and penalties – even on the first offense – can be as from a $100 fine to revoking the permit.
The Police Department should request more resources to enforce the liquor licenses, BYOB and other ordinances when the budget is discussed this year, said Councilor Cecilia Lenk.
Corbett said he worries there will be too many businesses that get the BYOB permit. He also fears it will hurt restaurants that bought liquor licenses, which can cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“When we applied for the 15 licenses we made a promise to license holders that we not devalue their investment and I believe we are allowing that,” Corbett said.
Not that many businesses would be able to get a BYOB permit, said Councilor Ken Woodland. He estimated about four could qualify now because they cannot be businesses that already have a liquor license, and it must be a restaurant that provides full wait service to a vast majority of customers.
For Sideris, the biggest concern is whether the town adopting BYOB could impact the legislature’s decision on whether or not to approve the 15 new liquor licenses.
“The House has some concerns about the language in our Home Rule Petition for the 15 new liquor licenses. (The Legislature) has had two committee meetings to try to resolve it, but have not been able to do so,” Sideris said. “I am very concerned how the state representatives voting on the Home Rule Petition will look at this vote on the BYOB.”
Councilor Tony Palomba said this does not concern him.
“Many communities already have BYOB,” Palomba said. “I can’t see the connection between 15 licenses and BYOB.”
The Council passed the ordinance and also passed the delay in implementation. Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said he worried that the Licensing Board be able to set up an application process for restaurants to get their BYOB permit. The amendment passed 7-2, with Corbett and Palomba voting no.