Licenses will be issued with conditions; hearing defects debated
By the time blossoms appear on Harvard’s apple trees, or perhaps by Memorial Day, residents, for the first time in anyone’s memory, should be able to buy a six pack or a bottle of wine without leaving town.
With Selectman Tim Clark at home caring for a sick child, the Board of Selectmen voted 4–0 to grant one of Harvard’s three off-premises liquor licenses to Lyn Horowitz of the General Store on the town Common, and by a 3–1 vote to grant another to Robert Hirsch, owner of the Harvard Plaza on Ayer Road and the Grapevine liquor store in Boxborough. However, responding to concerns raised by residents, individual selectmen, and other town officials at public hearings held in December and January, the BOS voted to issue each license “with conditions,” which the applicants are required to meet before they can begin to sell liquor.
The BOS also had to deal with the written concerns of Clark that public input had been prematurely cut off, as well as his request that the hearing be continued at a later date when he would be able to attend.
The four selectmen appeared to be evenly divided on whether to allow additional e-mails received by Town Administrator Tim Bragan from concerned citizens after Dec. 15 to be read into the record (see sidebar: “Press error sparks public input debate”). Town counsel Mark Lanza recommended against doing so. He noted that Chairman Ron Ricci had closed the public input portion of each hearing on Dec. 15 and said that from his perspective as a lawyer there “was no defect” in the process. Lanza likewise advised that a letter sent to the BOS by the Board of Health (BOH) on Jan. 20 was also inadmissible, though any concerns it expressed could be remedied by setting conditions on the licenses themselves. In the end, the BOS took no action on the post-Dec. 15 e-mails.
Though Selectwoman Lucy Wallace pressed for a continuation of the hearing until Clark could attend, applicant Hirsch, through his attorney Roy Pastor, said he would not agree to a further delay. And once it was clear there were sufficient votes among the four members present to approve the two licenses with conditions, the BOS proceeded.
With the questions of public input and schedule resolved, Lanza presented his “recommended findings” for each application, as well as the conditions he recommended be attached to each license when it is awarded. A final version of the findings and conditions will be attached to each application when it is sent to the state Alcohol and Beverage Control Commission (ABCC). The findings were based on comments received from the selectmen, acting individually so as not to violate the state’s open meeting law.
Key state criteria for issuing a liquor license are that it satisfy a “public need” and “protect a common good,” both of which Lanza said are ill-defined concepts. Both the Horowitz and Hirsch licenses arguably meet a public need, Lanza said, because Harvard presently has no liquor stores. The public good can be protected, he said, through the conditions he and the selectmen propose for both establishments, including a store manager or clerk who is at least 21 years old present at all times, and careful monitoring of the alcohol inventory, including use of video monitors. The conditions also require both facilities to comply with all town protective bylaws for signs and lighting, and for Title V and other health issues to be resolved. The “town has ample enforcement powers,” said Lanza, to deal with issues that might arise. Moreover, the conditions spell out that if the conditions are not met within six months of license issuance, the application will expire and the applicant will have to start the process all over again, including a new application, a new hearing, and new fees.
Both applications, along with a final draft of the selectmen’s findings and the conditions they have set for each property, next go to the state ABCC, which will review and further vet the applicants. Once the licenses have been approved by the ABCC, selectmen will issue a license to each applicant, but neither can actually sell beverages until the conditions of each license have been met. The selectmen are given only 30 days to act on an application, unless the applicant agrees to an extension, as Horowitz and Hirsch did twice. The ABCC, however, has no such time limits, and because it processes an estimated 15,000 retail licenses per year, according to its website, it could be weeks or months before Harvard’s licenses can be issued.
In the meantime, Selectwoman Marie Sobalvarro is at work on a liquor policy for the town that will establish the as yet undetermined license fees to be paid once the new licenses become active.