Needham selectmen argued Tuesday over whether they should hold another public hearing on the retail sale of alcohol before the after agreeing to final language of an article that would allow for a total of eight all-alcohol and package store licenses in the next five years.
Board chairman Moe Handel said he felt there would be plenty of opportunities for public input throughout the process, as the Town Meeting article would only serve to submit a home rule petition to the state legislature and voters would still need to consider a referendum at an upcoming election.
But others on the board, including Selectman John Bulian, felt that residents should be given a chance to weigh in on the specific language of the article after having only discussed the general issue at .
“We had an exhaustive hearing on this subject, and the conclusion that I came away from that with is that it is really something that needs to be decided by the voters whether we’re going to have package stores in town at all,” Bulian said.
He also felt that certain information, such as where these types of stores would be allowed and what exactly selectmen would allow—such as the question of convenience stores—should be ironed out before going to Town Meeting.
“I don’t want to see this so fast-tracked that Town Meeting is confused about what they’re voting on and what they're going to get,” Bulian said.
The new language replaces a placeholder article that could have enabled selectmen, as the licensing board, to approve up to 12 licenses for the retail sale of alcohol—six for all-alcohol and six for package stores selling only wine and beer.
The new article limits the total licenses to six of any type, with an additional two added in five years (by Jan. 1, 2018) for a maximum allowance of up to eight businesses selling alcohol for consumption off-premises. the limited purchase of alcohol for consumption on-premises at restaurants of certain size, with the purchase of food.
If approved at the May 7 Town Meeting, the home rule petition would be submitted to the state legislature for approval, then the town would hold a referendum vote at an upcoming election to formally adopt the measure.
Specifics such as what type or size of business could receive a license and which areas of town would be zoned for retail alcohol sales would be up to the town and not subject to the state’s approval, Handel said. These items would be decided before the referendum, with considerable public input—such as Planning Board hearings on the zoning issues—before the town-wide vote.
“There will be a lot of public discussion before a referendum is held on this issue,” Handel said.
Selectman Dan Matthews also felt there would be ample opportunity for public debate without holding a second hearing before Town Meeting. He said he “would not want to delay voters’ opportunity to make a decision” by trying to work out all of the details before Town Meeting votes on the home rule petition article.
But Selectman Jerry Wasserman said he had expected to hold another public hearing before the Town Meeting debate, saying the Dec. 6 hearing was just on the basic concept of whether or not to allow the retail sale of alcohol.
“This is a much more concrete proposal for what we’re going to go and do,” Wasserman said.
Though he understood there would be a referendum, Wasserman said voters should have another chance to weigh in before the town submits a home rule petition to the state legislature.
“I see this [new Town Meeting article] as a compromise, and I think it’s the right compromise, but I think we need to go through the process,” he said.
The opportunity for public input could come through an informational meeting geared toward Town Meeting members but open to the public, Wasserman said.
The board voted 4-0 in favor of the new article language allowing a total of eight licenses by 2018 but did not decide on whether to hold a second hearing before May 7. That decision will be made at a future selectmen’s meeting.