Proposed booze rules in Stockbridge chafe local businesses

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STOCKBRIDGE — A proposed alcohol policy for the town remains under review by the Select Board and Town Counsel following objections raised by several license-holders about sections they considered too restrictive.

"It's important to note that the purpose of this hearing is to get input from license-holders on the new policy," Select Board Chairman Donald Chabon stated. He emphasized that no immediate vote was planned.

The draft of the policy, which is posted at townofstockbridge.com, was discussed during an informal public hearing on Monday.

"It is not our intention to shorten any hours" for retailers, restaurants or other license-holders, he emphasized. "If the board does wish to shorten hours at a later date, it will give the proper two-week notice to each licensee," as required by the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

Longtime retailer Joseph Nejaime, owner of Nejaime's Wine Cellar stores in Stockbridge and Lenox, sought clarification on whether the draft policy modifies an existing one.

The proposed alcohol policy is new and would replace a one-page guideline, Town Administrator Danielle Fillio replied. She told Nejaime that store hours are determined by state law, not by a town policy.

Attorney Ivria Fried of Miyares Harrington LLP, the town counsel, explained the Select Board has not had a traditional policy but would examine each application and determine whether the hours were appropriate, reflecting the terms of the state law.

"What you have in front of you is what we would consider a robust policy," Fried told license-holders and residents. Provisions include security cameras for package stores, TIPS (Training for Intervention Procedures) certification for wait staff, and BYOB guidelines.

"It is completely new, and we want to get everyone on the same page," she said. "It would replace the current policy's guidance about liquor license violations."

For the Red Lion Inn, any reduction in hours, especially in the morning, would be a concern, said Attorney Jeffrey Lynch, representing Main Street Hospitality, which owns the inn and the Elm Street Market. "There's a certain demand for alcohol service with a brunch-hour type breakfast," he noted.

"They would certainly be opposed to any reduction in hours as being counter-productive to their own business, which we think globally affects the town, the tourism industry and the clientele that the town and my client serves," he added.

Lynch questioned why the board would create a policy, considering the specific state statutes created by the ABCC. He cited the commission's reliance on extensive case law and written decisions that come into play when there's a hearing in Boston on alleged liquor license violations or denials of applications.

"I think anything you introduce into your policy that isn't absolutely consistent with everything that has transpired through the ABCC runs the risk of creating more confusion than help," Lynch told the Select Board.

He interpreted a section of the proposed policy as giving the board "the right to do whatever you want to do, based upon the specific situation at hand."

Lynch stated that the ABCC seeks uniformity across the state — "they don't want a business in Stockbridge that encounters a violation to be treated more harshly than a business in Brighton with the same violation. The town should insist on letting the status quo stay put, I don't think we're adding anything here, especially the penalty provision which is creating some confusion."

He also objected to a proposal requiring liquor-license violators to post a notice on the window of their establishments stating the reason for the warning or suspension and the length of time.

"I think that's punitive and sends a bad message for marketing overall," Lynch said. "I don't think we want the tourist population and the year-rounders to be walking around businesses, being reminded that they have made a misstep. Some violations happen innocently and businesses do their best to protect themselves."

"People who walk by may never return to that business," he added. "I don't think it's helpful and it should be stricken from the proposed requirements."

Fried, the town's attorney, defended the proposed policy.

"It enables everyone to understand what's required, I don't think it's superfluous to have a policy," she said. "Many, many communities do and it's not like we're jumping off the deep end here. It does help provide clarity for boards and licensees."

Voicing concerns about the proposed BYOB policy, Kim Noltemy, chief operating officer for the Boston Symphony, stated that licensing requirements are carefully observed at Tanglewood, and advocated continued tolerance for lawn picnickers who bring their own beverages.

Tanglewood has designated eight specific areas for its sale of alcohol, with premises clearly delineated, fenced-off where possible, with signage limiting consumption of beverages within the defined areas, she pointed out.

"We did this because we knew it was essential to the continued viability of Tanglewood to maintain the lawn as an unregulated area," she said, "open to all our patrons to bring in their picnics and their alcoholic beverages as they so choose." Citing lawn crowds that can max out at 13,000, Noltemy said it would be literally impossible to comply with the proposed BYOB licensing rules, even for a crowd of 5,000 to 10,000.

Attorney C. Jeffrey Cook, representing the BSO, said that "we have never heard of a public safety problem relating to people picnicking on the lawn at Tanglewood."

He noted that the 80 percent of the typical full summer season lawn crowd of 200,000 bring their own picnics to Tanglewood, and purchase most of them in Berkshire County. "So it has a huge impact, and we have to be able to continue to do that," he declared, suggesting that the proposed BYOB policy not be approved.

Representing Chesterwood, Lisa Reynolds urged the selectmen not to adopt the "outside service" portion of the alcohol policy that would "rope off" patrons who tour the site during receptions, often with a glass of wine or champagne in hand. "The thought of roping them off sounds a bit like cattle to me, and I can't see who would come to receptions in a designated area," she said.

After about 40 minutes of discussion, the Select Board voted to axe the BYOB policy, delete a video surveillance provision and eliminate any changes in hours. The members decided to meet with Town Counsel to prepare a final draft and present it at a formal hearing during the 7 p.m. July 24 Select Board meeting.

The Select Board is down to two currently, since recently elected member Terry Flynn is out this month to take care of health issues.

Contact correspondent Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.

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