Burlington Town Meeting will take up a vote on whether the town should petition the state legislature for 10 additional liquor licenses during the January Town Meeting session.
The warrant article was approved by the Burlington Board of Selectmen during the meeting Monday evening.
The issue of a lack of licenses was first floated by the board in October. The basis of the move is that Town Administrator John Petrin told the board that there is interest among restaurant groups and the town's own planning department in acquiring new licenses for restaurants.
The members of the board discussed the pros and cons of the additional licenses. The arguments in favor included that the licenses could be used for locally-owned small businesses, which are currently being pressured to sell their licenses (or have already done so) due to pressure from bigger organizations looking to set up in town.
The licenses would also allow the town to provide additional amenities, as many restaurants will open only if they can sell alcohol, which could help fuel the town's goal of developing more Class A office space.
The meals tax has been a boon for the town since its inception and increasing the number of restaurants, especially high-end ones like the type selectmen say are interesting in coming to town, could generate more tax revenue for the town. The additional licenses would also help Burlington, Selectman Robert Hogan stated, attract restaurants and therefor money-spending diners from other towns, such as Lynfield and Waltham, that have been putting an emphasis on growing their amenities.
Petrin said the licenses could also be used for other establishments besides restaurants, including bowling alleys, movie theaters and a sports center.
On the other side there are concerns of increased problems with alcohol, such as drunk driving and underage drinking.
Selectman Michael Runyan expressed concerns that more restaurants could bring in more traffic, especially in the Middlesex Turnpike and Mall Road areas.
"Traffic is already an issue," he said. "When do we reach the saturation point?"
Runyan also said he was concerned that Burlington was putting too much emphasis on amenities and that neighboring towns were the ones seeing the benefits. He said Burlington is getting the restaurants but surrounding communities are getting the office buildings and that the workers are simply coming in to eat and drink.
In the end the selectmen decided to approve the motion to place the additional 10 licenses on the Town Meeting warrant. This was done after it became clear that the board would have discretion in when and how they issue the license. For instance, they could place a priority on smaller businesses. They can also wait to issue the licenses, meaning that perhaps they could issue five the first year and five after a specified time.
Town Moderator Phil Gallagher was at the meeting to bring up some of his concerns in regards to additional licenses.
The first point Gallagher brought up was the increased risk of alcohol-related issues, as discussed above.
However, he also said he believed that the town could reach a point of "diminishing returns" if the town puts up too many restaurants.
"Since the increase in the local option meals tax there has been a rush by localities to take advantage," he said. "We can look back in history to similar circumstance. In 2001 our hotel tax revenue was 1.5 million dollars. During a 2 year period ending in 2002 we added 4 new hotels and 583 rooms. Even with an almost doubling of rooms our revenue dropped to $903,000 and we did not recover to $1.4 million in revenue until 2008. In addition we saw a tremendous drop in property tax revenues from the hotels. One example was the Holiday Inn/Wyndham Gardens which changed in hands 2000 for 14 million dollars and subsequently sold in 2004 for $6,480,000. This clearly indicates that more was not better. I believe a similar result will occur with an overbuilding of restaurants and liquor licenses."
Gallagher also said the additional licenses could hurt set development, especially NorthWest Park and that the licenses would not necessarily benefit smaller venues. He also brought up that more restaurants could put stress on the town's sewer system.
Mr. Gallagher submitted his concerns in a Letter to the Editor to Patch which can be found by clicking this link.
What do you think? Should Town Meeting approve the article for 10 additional liquor licenses? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.