Wellesley selectmen discussed Monday night whether to allow smaller restaurants to receive liquor licenses as part of an initiative to help reinvigorate Wellesley Square.
Town officials hope the issue will be brought forth at a Special Town Meeting in the fall. The board will discuss the topic further at an upcoming meeting.
“We will have one more discussion before the town forms an actual warrant,” said selectman Katherine Babson Jr.
The town now requires a restaurant to have at least 100 seats to obtain a liquor license or beer and wine license, leaving out smaller restaurants.
Hans Larsen, the town’s executive director, said the town needs to take a position by Oct. 15 for an article to be on the warrant for the fall.
“We are quite anxious to sit down with merchants and owners, to give them some idea if we are interested,” said Babson. “And if we are interested, to have a special town meeting in the fall to get on with this.”
Deputy police chief William G. Brooks said the town has issued 18 liquor licenses — 12 to restaurants and others to various clubs and small pubs in town and on the Babson and Wellesley College campuses. The town also issues one-day liquor licenses for nonprofit events.
Brooks said liquor regulations allow the town to issue one liquor license for every 1,000 residents, giving the town the possibility to issue 29 liquor licenses.
Brooks said the 100-seat requirement stems from a law passed in the 1930s.
“It would certainly help smaller restaurants from two perspectives,” said Brooks. “To open a 50-seat restaurant you don’t really need the same investment that you would need for a 100-seat restaurant. Also, there may be space that would not take a larger restaurant, but would take a smaller one. So opening up the possibility of liquor licenses might help restaurants.”
One question being weighed by the board is how to distinguish the kinds of licenses restaurants will receive. Should smaller restaurants get only beer and wine licenses or should they be able to serve all types of liquor?
Another question is, should the town set a minimum number of seats in special legislation or in the regulations? Also, how does the town go about these changes?
Brooks said he did not feel having more restaurants in town with a liquor license would create any issues. “We don’t have problems with our liquor licensees in town,” he said. “I think the regulations are well drafted and the licensees are all very responsible. I think if we had a few more liquor licenses, even if they were for smaller establishments, I think that would function just fine.”
At the meeting, selectman Owen Dugan was concerned that an increase in liquor licenses might make it easier for students at the middle and high schools, which are in close proximity to restaurants, to be served alcohol.
“How can we be sure that it won’t get in the hands of those students?” he asked. “Making alcohol more available could create problems.”
“I think alcohol served to minors would be at a minimum,” said Brooks.
Wellesley does not have any bars, which are banned by town regulations, Brooks reminded the selectmen. Restaurants can only serve alcohol to patrons when they dine and are served food.
Brooks did not feel that increasing the number of restaurants with liquor licenses would create a problem, even with the high number of college-age students in the area. “They have places on campus and they very often leave town to go somewhere else,” he said.
Derek McLean can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.