Bennington looks to ban liquor after midnight
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | January 15,2013
BENNINGTON — The Select Board discussed the idea of banning the sale of alcohol after midnight in bars and restaurants at the board’s meeting Monday night, but the idea got a lukewarm reception.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd brought the idea to the board as a response to problems seen by the police and other town officials that seem to increase between midnight and 2 a.m. Hurd said most of the vandalism to municipal and downtown property as well as drunk and disorderly complaints come around that time and in proximity to some of the local bars.
“It’s gotten to the point now where our police are involved routinely on weekends at those places that stay open after midnight and tend to serve, or perhaps overserve, their customers. I don’t know and maybe the customers are intoxicated when they arrive but that’s where our problems occur,” he said.
The proposal already calls for an exception on New Year’s Eve for establishments that have a Class 1 liquor license, a license that allows the owners to serve food and alcohol. Select Board member Jason Morrissey said he would also like the proposal to exempt private clubs.
No local businesses were named during the discussion although some references were made to a few bars being the source of the majority of the problems.
The Select Board members, after some general conversation about the proposal, agreed that they would prefer to have the proposal on the agenda for a future meeting so they could hear from police, business owners who would be affected by the law, and the public before making a decision.
Sharyn Brush, who served as chairwoman for Monday’s meeting, said she believed town officials should try to react to problems as they occur instead of “penalizing everyone else” for the problems caused by a few people or a few bars.
Another member, Justin Corcoran, expressed no interest in passing an ordinance. Corcoran said he was concerned that the ordinance proposed by Hurd could shut down a local business that counts on the income from those few hours of the week.
Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette was not at Monday’s meeting but has come to past meetings to discuss the problems his department faces in responding to a small number of bars and their customers on Friday and Saturday.
“I think we have to recognize that there’s a problem here, that people who tend to be out that late consuming alcohol, in today’s culture, tend to cause problems,” Hurd said.
Greg Van Houten, a Select Board member, said he would be open to further discussion but he hoped those talks would look at other consequences like whether those people who couldn’t buy alcohol in Bennington wouldn’t simply cross the nearby border into New York where bars are open later.
According to board member Christopher Oldham, the problem might not be solved by creating new ordinances but by taking steps to make sure the bars were obeying the existing laws.
Oldham did show support for the town to be proactive and examine the options.
Other suggestions raised on Monday was conditioning a liquor license to require certain bars to pay a police officer to act as security or to enact a “three strikes” rule toward liquor licenses. Morrissey, however, said he didn’t know if those options would even be available to the Select Board in their capacity as the board that issues liquor licenses.