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Proposed liquor license fee hike upsets Cambridge restaurants

Posted by Brock Parker  July 24, 2013 10:10 AM

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Restaurateurs in Kendall Square are balking at a proposal that could more than double their bill for serving booze.

Owners of several eateries are objecting to the proposal before the city’s License Commission that would double the annual fee for some liquor licenses and charge a $5,000 user fee every three years.

The owners called the fee hike unfair to those in Kendall Square who have taken a big risk in recent years to open in an area known for its booming high-tech businesses but not for its nightlife.

“It seems, at this early stage for a lot of us in Kendall Square, punitive for the city to come after of us for more money for this license when we’re still trying to develop this area--when we’re still at a stage of risk,” said Gary Strack owner of Firebrand Saints restaurant, which opened in the fall of 2011.

Strack and a number of other restaurant owners opposed to the fee hike crowded into a License Commission hearing about the proposal Tuesday night at the Michael J. Lombardi building in Central Square.

While most liquor licenses issued to restaurants and breweries in Cambridge are considered the property of the owner and can be bought and sold, the city also issues what it calls “no value” licenses” that can not be transferred.

The proposed fee hikes would affect the “no value” licenses issued after Feb. 28, 2008, to restaurants with 50 or more seats.

The fees vary depending on the type of license and how late the businesses stay open, but License Commission Executive Director Elizabeth Lint said a restaurant with 100 seats that is now paying an annual fee of $6,320 would see their liquor license fee increase to $12,640 if the fee hike is approved.

Lint said the fee increase, and the proposal to charge the license holders an additional $5,000 every three years, are being looked at because the increasing number of establishments in the city with liquor licenses is putting a strain on city police and fire departments as well as License Commission inspectors.

“We just can’t physically fit everything in the hours in the day between noise enforcement, liquor enforcement, and all the other things we enforce,” Lint said.

But Michael Krupp, owner of Area Four restaurant in Kendall Square, said the fee hike would have a dramatic effect on the bottom line of his business.

“I can’t stress enough how much this would hurt us,” Krupp said. “This is a cost that we would have to pass on to our guests.”

Steve Kurland, owner of Za and Evoo restaurants in Kendall Square, said the fee hikes would cost him over $28,000 in the next three years, which would be onerous for him. He said that while he had the benefit of not having to purchase and expense liquor license, he doesn’t have the option of selling his “no value” license.

Kurland said restaurants are already bringing in revenue for the city through the .75 percent meals tax. Cambridge approved the meals excise tax in 2009 and expects it to generate in $3.4 million in revenue in the current fiscal year, according to the city budget.
“I feel like we’re paying more than our fair share for what we’re doing,” Kurland said.

The License Commission did not vote on the fee hike Monday. Commission Chairman Michael Gardner said the matter is being taken under advisement and will be subject to further discussion, but the next hearing date to discuss the matter has not been set.

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