About 20 residents who live in the area around Carlson Orchards on Oak Hill Road came to the June 11 Select Board meeting to participate in a hearing for the orchard’s request for licenses that would allow hard cider to be served there. Concerns over increased traffic, inebriated drivers, and the taproom’s weekend hours resulted in an hour and a half discussion, ending with the Select Board’s decision to draft new license agreements for its next meeting June 25.
Carlson’s applied for three licenses: a common victualler license, the annual license it applies for that allows the retail store to sell prepared foods; a Farmer Series Pouring Permit for the retail store that would allow Carlson’s hard cider to be consumed there; and 90 one-day wine and malt licenses that would allow those beverages to be served in the taproom. The taproom hours would be Thursday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and select holidays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Carlson Orchards anticipates opening its new taproom in time for Peach Festival in August. (Photo by Lisa Aciukewicz)
Carlson’s added a condition to the taproom licenses that stipulated only Carlson products (currently two hard cider blends) could be served there. Conditions to the victualler license lists the foods that can be sold, and includes only those foods the store already sells, such as pies.
As the hearing progressed and residents expressed concerns over serving alcohol in the store, Frank Carlson explained that although the store license would allow that, it was intended only to enable cider tastings in the store on the days the taproom was closed. He added that the Select Board could add a condition to the store’s license that would allow only tastings, and Chair Lucy Wallace said the board would add that condition. Carlson also said there would be no tastings in the store on the days the taproom is open.
Board members expressed concerns over parking and traffic, mentioning that fall weekends already bring increased traffic to the area. Carlson said that he has cut down two rows of trees to increase parking and now has the capacity for 350 cars. As for traffic, he said that the orchard is able to handle the traffic turning into and out of the property in the fall with the aid of staff members, and that practice would continue if the taproom draws large volumes of customers.
But residents were also worried about inebriated drivers leaving the property. Oak Hill Road resident Susan Tarrent, who lives near a particularly difficult turn near Littleton County Road, expressed her concern about drivers negotiating that turn after an afternoon of drinking. Bill Calderwood, who lives on Woodchuck Hill Road, said he used to frequently ride bikes on the roads around the orchard with his kids and wondered if those roads would remain “kid-friendly.”
When the board was asked if the police were satisfied with the plan, Executive Assistant Julie Doucet said that Chief Denmark has seen the application, and he will review it again when the conditions are added and weigh in on any traffic concerns. Wallace added that the licenses need to be renewed every year, and the town will check with the police each year to see if there are any traffic impacts before renewing the licenses.
The multitude of licenses, especially the 90 one-day licenses, was called into question by residents and board members alike. Board member Kara Minar called it a “patchwork” of licenses, and said she wished it were cleaner. Town Administrator Tim Bragan explained that the 90 one-day licenses cover the period of time the taproom will be open this year, from its July opening day through December. He added that the one-day licenses, 30 for each of the three Carlson brothers who own the orchard, were the easiest way to license the taproom this year. Carlson said that if the taproom is successful, he might apply for a different type of license for it next year.
Residents also expressed concern over events the orchard might hold, that might increase traffic even more than just the addition of the taproom. Kerri Green of Oak Hill Road asked specifically about events such as “Food Truck Fridays,” an event held on summer Friday evenings at Nashoba Valley Winery in Bolton that draws hundreds of people. Green said the orchard closes promptly at 7 p.m., and hundreds of cars leave the property at the same time. Carlson said he did not have any specific ideas for events, but even if he did, most events, such as weddings or live music events, would require a permit from the Select Board. He did mention that the orchard had food trucks last season, and those are permitted through the Board of Health, not the Select Board.
Multiple speakers asked that the taproom close at 6 p.m. on weekends instead of 8 p.m. Board member Rich Maiore said it was “essentially a bar in the middle of a residential area,” and he would not support the 8 p.m. closing time on Fridays and Saturdays.
When the hearing closed, Wallace asked board members to send the conditions they would like to see in the license agreements to Doucet, who will compile them into a draft for review at the next meeting.