The License Board will ask the City Council to adopt a state law that will allow it to change one seasonal license a year to an annual license.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Licensing Board voted unanimously on Monday in favor of two alterations to the city's handling of licenses with respect to sidewalk cafes and seasonal alcohol sales.
After some debate, the board voted to ask the City Council to implement a statutory provision of state law that would convert seasonal alcohol licenses to annual ones when desired.
Adoption of this provision, under Massachusetts General Law Chapter 138, section 17, was suggested by board member Dana Doyle in response to a continued barrage of requests for extensions of seasonal licenses currently being issued annually.
Fellow board member Thomas Campoli stated his belief that this measure will also increase the amount of licensing available to retailers and restaurateurs, helping to address frequent problems the board has faced in its reluctance to rescind inactive licenses for fear the city will be left with fewer licenses to grant legitimate businesses.
"It allows us to convert seasonal to annual at a rate of one per year," said Campoli of the statute. "One of the problems that we have now is that we have establishments that aren't operating, and we don't want to revoke their licenses because we don't want to run out of licenses, because if we revoke or suspend a license the city loses it."
"I see this as a way the city can regain some licenses," added Campoli.
Board member Robert Quattrochi, however, voiced concerns that this change may not be fair to already established businesses who currently hold annual licenses, and expressed doubts about how much of a problem inactive licenses presented.
"I can't say I'm totally against this, I think we're opening a can of worms here that's going to be hard to control," said Quattrochi, of creating more annual licenses through this option.
"Honestly, when I read the memo on the statute I thought, 'Why when this has been available since the early '90s, why has the city of Pittsfield failed to adopt it?'" Doyle declared. "I think it's a benefit to our community that we're not taking advantage of."
"I don't think there's any question that if the city accepted it, that this would allow for economic development," agreed Campoli.
"Because it's such an inflexible standard, this really gives us a little more flexibility," said City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan, in offering her legal interpretation to the board.
Despite Quattrochi's reservations, the board voted 4-0, with Chairman Carmen Massimiano absent, to have the Degnan put the change forth to the City Council as a petition.
The board also reacted positively to a request to update the city's ordinance on sidewalk cafes at the request of the City Council.
City Planner Cornelius Hoss said the new draft ordinance was meant to help streamline a permitting process that the Office of Community Development had deemed "cumbersome," in that it involved a lengthy procedure of approval at the local level before an application could even be sent to the state licensing authority.
Hoss said the proposed new ordinance clarifies what city departments must sign off on this type of application as well as spelling out a timeline for handling by those departments.
Under the ordinance, any establishment that serves alcohol on its premises will be required to go before the Licensing Board, regardless of whether or not it intends to permit alcohol within a designated outside area. Establishments that serve no alcohol need only get approval of city departments such as Community Development, Public Works, Police, Fire and Health.
Outdoor cafe areas may not infringe on sufficient access to entryways nor on the public sidewalks, sufficient access to which is guaranteed under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Members of the board agreed that their review was important even in cases where an applicant is not seeking to serve alcohol in the outdoor area but has it on the premises. Enforcement of violations of the ordinance will be conducted by the Police Department, which may issue fines of $50 per day for each infraction until an issue is resolved.
Following approval of the draft by the board on Monday, the amended ordinance will go to the City Council to be referred to its Committee on Ordinances and Rules for further discussion.