Public Hearing Held on Liquor License Expansion; Pressley says Intent is to Amend for Charlestown

By Seth Daniel

City Councilor Ayanna Pressley said she was encouraged by the first liquor license expansion hearing for Boston last Thursday, June 22, and stated that the Home Rule Petition language was only a “blueprint” and certainly could be amended at the State House to include places like Charlestown, which was left out of the 2014 license expansion plan.

The new plan was discussed with State Legislators representing Boston in a meeting early this year that included Mayor Martin Walsh and Pressley, among others. State Rep. Dan Ryan of Charlestown was at that meeting, and said at the time that the plan in its current form doesn’t help Charlestown get access to more restaurant liquor licenses, but that an amendment at the State House could change that.

As it is, the Public Hearing in Councilor Michael Flaherty’s committee reviewed the Home Rule Petition that would be sent to the mayor and the State Legislature very soon.

Pressley said that while the Petition focuses on economically-disadvantaged neighborhoods like Mattapan and Dorchester, she hopes that it could be amended to include neighborhoods like Charlestown and West Roxbury that aren’t economically disadvantaged and don’t have a Main Streets program – but could still use more high-quality restaurants with liquor licenses.

“The great thing about our current proposal is that it is amendable,” she said. “This was only a way to start with the original language we used before…Home Rules have an amendment option, in neighborhoods like Charlestown, where we can make this larger. The goal is to make this larger, but we had to start with the original blueprint.”

She said she has spoken with Rep. Ryan, Councilor Sal LaMattina and with State Sen. Sal DiDomenico about amending the legislation for places like Charlestown and West Roxbury – among others. She said making the Home Rule amendable will save time and keep it from getting stalled and sent between the Legislature and the Council for changes.

“First, we hope to make a few amendments to the legislation here on the Council before sending it up to the State House,” she continued. “Thanks to the strong advocacy by Councilor LaMattina and Representative Ryan, and our shared desire to expand eligible neighborhoods, Charlestown will be added to the list of neighborhoods that will have 15 neighborhood restricted licenses over the next three years. I believe this proposed legislation is another step towards achieving equity in opportunity for each neighborhood to build community and wealth. Every community deserves walkable amenities and activated streetscapes, this is the transformative power and impact of sit down restaurants.”

In total, she said she is pushing the matter with Mayor Martin Walsh because she believes that restaurants are anchors and places where the city mixes well. The popularity and need for such restaurants in Charlestown was evidenced this year by the opening of Monument 251, which received a liquor license from the Boston Licensing Board over other larger entities in the Seaport and Downtown Boston.

“I really believe in the power of restaurants as district anchors,” said Pressley in a recent interview. “I really believe this is a segregated City and we need to look to bringing everyone together. One place you often see the diversity of our city is in its restaurants.”

Charlestown has often been at a disadvantage under the new rules passed in 2014 for additional liquor licenses because it doesn’t have a Main Streets program or is not economically disadvantaged. That has resulted in its restaurateurs having to compete with much bigger interests in busier neighborhoods like the Back Bay. Meanwhile, other neighborhoods like Mattapan have had dedicated licenses that no one has claimed – due to the fact that Pressley said a critical “pipeline” to groom restaurateurs needs to be initiated while the new licenses are held in an account for the neighborhood. Such a plan could emerge for Charlestown too if amended as such at the State House.

Pressley said the proposal, in essence, includes the unlocking of 153 new licenses over three years. Many of those licenses would be designated for specific neighborhoods. Additionally, licenses would be reserved for Main Streets programs too.

Another category comes with three umbrella licenses for larger venues, such as the new Lawn on D in South Boston, the Bolling Building in Roxbury and the Boston Center for the Arts in the South End.

State Rep. Ryan has been surveying the community to see what the need might be so that he is ready to amend the Home Rule if and when it arrives at the State House in order to get a pipeline of licenses reserved for Charlestown.

“We’ve had preliminary discussions among the  Boston Delegation as to the wants and needs of each neighborhood when it comes to expanded licenses,” he said. “We’ll get more into the details once the City Council sends up their petition. There is a really good opportunity to not only expand licenses where they make sense but to come up with creative license opportunities that are neighborhood driven. With thoughtful planning we can transform the hospitality industry by creating new ownership opportunities while also enhancing and protecting existing local businesses.”

Pressley said last week’s hearing was encouraging, and she hopes the momentum keeps going as the document moves to the Mayor’s Office, and finally to Beacon Hill. The hope is to get the legislation into effect by Sept. 1, 2017.

“Once again, I remain encouraged by the progress we have made the last three years due to the passage of our original home rule petition and liquor license reform efforts,” she said. “However, although encouraged, I am not yet satisfied – as 100 years of hurt can’t be reversed in three years. I am grateful our Mayor, and so many aspiring small business owners and existing restaurateurs, share our desire to dismantle a system that has created stark disparities in our City and resulted in a density and saturation of restaurants in some neighborhoods and food deserts in others, as well as some restaurateurs monopolizing the licenses and the market.”

Boston has long been hampered, some argue, by a different liquor license system than that of other cities and towns in the Commonwealth. While other municipalities have liquor license numbers determined by population census numbers and local Licensing Boards, the City of Boston has its licenses controlled by the State Legislature. It is up to the entire Legislature as to whether they “unlock” new licenses for Boston or keep the numbers stagnant. Until recently, licenses were held back by the Legislature.

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