Tuesday January 15, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The Select Board is planning to entertain the idea of an ordinance that would ban bars and restaurants from serving alcohol past midnight.

Citing problems with some local bars, Bennington Town Manager Stuart A. Hurd asked the Select Board to consider the ordinance on Monday. The idea was received coolly by some on the board. Still, members agreed by consensus to add the proposal to the agenda of a future meeting for further discussion.

"I'm asking the board if you would like to consider an ordinance, which limits the sale and consumption of alcohol in Class 1 businesses after midnight," Hurd said. "It's gotten to a point now where our police are involved routinely on weekends at places that are open till after midnight."

"We have to recognize that there's a problem here, that people that tend to be out that late consuming alcohol, at least in today's culture, they tend to cause problems," Hurd added.

The board has previously discussed incidents such as fighting and vandalism that have occurred among patrons of Doug's on Main Street, a bar that is typically open until after midnight. Ryan's Pub, also on Main Street but outside the downtown district, has also been discussed.

Hurd's proposal would impact all restaurants and bars that serve alcohol.

Select Board Vice Chairwoman Sharyn Brush, who ran Monday's meeting with the absence of Chairman Joseph L. Krawczyk Jr., said the board should look to address specific problems.

"I think we should deal with the problem and not penalize everyone else for one person or one establishment's errors," she said.

Others expressed a similar sentiment.

"We're going to punish everyone for the actions of a few. It just doesn't make a lot of sense to me," said Justin Corcoran.

Jason Morrissey suggested private clubs in Bennington should be exempt from the policy if enacted. "I can't find the words to describe it but I know there's a difference. There is a difference with a private club and that should be recognized in any discussion," he said.

A public hearing must be held before an ordinance can be enacted. There is then a 60-day waiting period for appeals, according to Hurd. State law allows bars and restaurants to stay open and serve alcohol until 2 a.m. But, both the town's legal counsel and state officials have said such an ordinance ending alcohol service at midnight in Bennington would be legal, he said.

"As the manager I've kind of had enough of the constant issues with those bars that stay open late," Hurd said prior to Monday's meeting. "If you go around town there are very few that stay open much beyond 11 o'clock, let alone 2 a.m."

People who wish to continue drinking after midnight can do so at a private residence, Hurd said.

"Young people shouldn't be out after midnight getting drunk," he said. "I can understand that sometimes they want to be out after midnight, but they can do that elsewhere. They can do that at their apartment or at a friend's place."

Corcoran cautioned that such an ordinance could spell ruin for some local establishments. "We have businesses here that are struggling to stay open as it is," he said. "I'm afraid we can regulate people right out of business. Is that really what we want to do here?"