Residents who have brought beer and wine to their dinner at some local establishments could soon have the opportunity to leave the alcohol at home and actually purchase a drink with dinner.
The Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday by a 5-2 vote approved a motion that essentially eliminates the need for established restaurants in a residential zone to prove hardship – an impossible task according to Southington Town Attorney Mark Sciota – in order to receive a liquor permit.
The new alcohol law will take effect in the next month, but would also only likely have a direct impact on three businesses in town said Commissioner Steve Kalkowski, chairman of the commission’s continuous improvement committee.
“In looking through the businesses in a residential zone, there were only eight that had active food permits and only three which are currently in a position to serve alcohol,” Kalkowski said. “This is a move that is designed to help the long-standing businesses in our community.”
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Perhaps the biggest winner of the new regulation change is Family Pizza, a popular restaurant located on Berlin Street in Southington.
Nearly half a dozen residents spoke in favor of the regulation, most customers at Family Pizza, and although owner Mike Vassilou did not speak, the message was sent loud and clear.
“Blue laws are no longer in existence and we as residents have the ability to get alcohol seven days a week,” said Cheryl Lounsbury, member of the Southington Town Council and chairwoman of the ordinance committee. “An ordinance change, passed in public hearing, allows people to bring their own wine and beer. I don’t see any reason why we should hinder opportunities for small business to sell it where it is already being consumed with dinner.”
The Town Council earlier this year voted unanimously to accept a change allowing for restaurants to allow people to bring their own wine and beer only and Gregg Curran says he sees the new regulation as a way of helping control potential excess drinking.
The way I see it, you can already bring beer and wine into restaurants across town now, so what’s difference if (the restaurants) are the ones selling you it? It gives them the ability to serve, which means they can cut you off; it could keep everyone a little safer.”
Not everyone is on board with the change in regulation, however. Commissioners Kevin Conroy and Paul Chaplinsky voted against the measure and expressed concerns that the regulation could allow for eventual “bar-like” activity in residential neighborhoods.
Conroy also called the regulation “narrow focused” and said he has concerns over the commission’s intent to take on a task that is “target focused” instead of trying to look out for all businesses fairly.
It’s a concern that was also expressed by David Ryan, who attended both public hearings and spoke out against the commission’s decision to take on the discussion. He said the commission is tasked with two things: enforcement and public safety.
“This regulation does nothing to improve public safety in our community,” Ryan said.
Concerns were also expressed over the town’s right to regulate alcohol sales once a permit is granted. The regulation is designed as a way to allow beer and wine, but that isn’t simply a decision that’s up to the town. Sciota said that decision ultimately lies with the state liquor commission.
In order to receive a permit, however, Kalkowski said the applicant must first go through the Zoning Board of Appeals to receive it and if there is any change to the establishment, it would need to come back before the Zoning Board of Appeals with a site plan to renew the permit.
The town’s regulations prevent any new restaurants from being established in a residential zone, essentially eliminating the possibility of future businesses popping up that could take advantage of the new regulation.
“This provides a set process that would prevent these locations from receiving a permit and then planning to turn the establishment into a bar,” Kalkowski said.
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