Alcohol bylaw nears vote in Amherst 

  • Amherst Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Saturday, March 07, 2020

AMHERST — A family reunion at Mill River Recreation Area caused property damage and left significant trash behind at the North Amherst site four years ago.

With 500 to 1,000 people overwhelming the pavilion that had been rented for the day, illegal consumption of alcohol and the playing of amplified music leading to complaints from neighbors, the event remains a stark reminder of what can happen when a party gets out of control.

For At-Large Councilor Andy Steinberg, such an event needs to be recalled as the Town Council considers whether to revise the open container bylaw and allow the Board of License Commissioners to issue alcohol licenses for use of town-owned sites.

Steinberg said Monday that he hopes if the revised bylaw is adopted at the council’s March 9 meeting, which could come at the mandated second reading, the commission will set rules and a process to follow that addresses community concerns.

The idea of changing the bylaw comes from District 4 Councilor Evan Ross, who envisions how the town can better support events that use public space.

In a memo to the board, he wrote, “This will make Amherst community events more attractive to a broader population, contributing to greater economic development and the vibrancy of our public spaces.”

But At-Large Councilor Alisa Brewer said she intends to vote against the revised bylaw as written because parkland throughout town would be eligible for alcohol permits.

Brewer said she is uneasy that the bylaw doesn’t apply only to downtown areas, specifically the Town Common, Kendrick Park and Sweetser Park, but extends to Mill River and Groff Park.

Under the current town bylaws, serving and consumption of alcohol on any town street, sidewalk and way, including parking lots, parks, school playgrounds, recreation areas and conservation areas, is prohibited under all circumstances. This means that an event like Taste of Amherst can have only food on town property, with alcoholic beverages served from a tent and fenced-off area on Amherst College land.

Ross said the revision is most similar to Hadley’s bylaw, under which license commissioners will be given discretion to determine who or what entities should be eligible for licenses. His proposal doesn’t automatically make the common or other parks places where alcohol is permitted, but allows that possibility.

District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam said the commission needs to find ways to hold people accountable, should they not be properly supervised or if their event gets out of control. Ross said the commission will handle that aspect of permitting.

While Ross has said tweaking the bylaw would allow a weekly event similar to that launched in Hadley last summer, in which local beers and wines were poured on town-owned land, Brewer said beers and wines that are produced in the region wouldn’t necessarily be served at Amherst events.

“To assume it’s going to be a local beer is not a safe assumption,” Brewer said.