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Amherst council greenlights serving alcohol on public property



Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 17, 2020

AMHERST — Organizations holding events on the Town Common and in other public spaces, which have always been prohibited from having beer and wine available to attendees, can now be allowed to serve alcohol.

The Town Council Monday voted 10-1, with two abstentions, to give the Board of License Commissioners the discretion to issue temporary alcohol pouring permits to groups and individuals interested in using green spaces, including the Town Common, Kendrick Park, Sweetser Park and Groff Park, for gatherings.

For the Amherst Business Improvement District, the ability to serve alcohol means more vitality for events it holds downtown.

BID Executive Director Gabrielle Gould said the adjusted bylaw could bring back events to the Town Common, which has lost about half of its activity in recent years.

“We intend to bring our own community and visitors back into our downtown and offer them many opportunities to experience downtown Amherst with art, music, food, craft libations for all ages,” Gould said.

The amendment to the open container bylaw, which had prohibited consumption of alcoholic beverages and possession of open containers on streets, sidewalks, ways or public property, including parking lots, parks, school playgrounds, recreation areas and conservation areas, was brought forward by District 4 Councilor Evan Ross in February. The revised bylaw keeps the open container prohibition in effect “unless a permit therefor has previously been secured from the Board of License Commissioners.”

“I hope you all will support this tonight,” Ross said, noting that it had been endorsed by the business community.

District 5 Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne said being able to serve alcoholic beverages would enliven events, not detract from them.

District 3 Councilor George Ryan said he was comfortable with the license commission making the decision about which organizations could get permits. At-Large Councilor Alisa Brewer said if councilors don’t like how the changed bylaw is functioning, they could reverse course by having the bylaw revised.

The council declined to set a list of conditions for granting or denying an alcohol permit.

District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen, the lone councilor to vote against the change, tried to add an amendment with a series of protocols described in a letter from Douglas Slaughter, chairman of the licensing commission.

Those protocols would set parameters, including having a responsible person apply for the permit and in charge of the event, providing a trigger for councilors to examine the bylaw once a year, and allowing police and fire chiefs to weigh in on each application. But her motion for an amendment failed to get a second after Ross expressed concern about micromanaging the commission. 

District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam and District 4 Councilor Steve Schreiber abstained from the vote.

Pam said that although she supports applications for organizations, she is concerned about who might apply and that there were no restrictions on sites where open containers could be allowed, meaning the council didn’t know the “true dimensions” of the revised bylaw. Pam added that it would have been better to start small before going big.

“I’m not that interested in supporting random drinking,” Pam said.