Board approves new liquor license requirements

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BRATTLEBORO — Businesses looking for liquor licenses will now need to take an extra step — they will need to include their alcohol sales policy in applications.

The update to the town's policy unanimously approved Tuesday by the Select Board was recommended by Cassandra Holloway, director of the Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition. "You have 89 liquor licensees," she told the board, adding the new requirement is an opportunity to reaffirm responsible liquor sales.

The addendum to the current license process states alcohol policies should include information about "what perceived age triggers an identification check, what are acceptable forms of identification and when a second form of identification" is required. Establishments must also have ways of identifying fake IDs and third-party sales.

Policies are to include plans for "dealing with intoxicated/disruptive customers" and denying sales, and a procedure for contacting law enforcement and keeping records of incidents. Establishments will need to outline consequences or corrective actions for staff members who fail to check IDs. Holloway said her group can help businesses develop policies if these criteria are new to them. The town's application already requires information about past violations and incidents, which comes from the Vermont Department of Liquor Control.

Town Manager Peter Elwell said town staffers were concerned about the additional workload. In the past, applicants were only asked if they had a policy in place, and were not asked to provide one. If the town clerk believes an application is missing information, the coalition can be contacted to work with the group.

"We want businesses to thrive in Brattleboro," Town Clerk Hilary Francis said. "I don't want to be like, 'Oh, that's missing so you don't get your license. I want to work with them to make sure they're complying."

Pete Nickerson, of Brattleboro, worried about overreach.

"What is the problem with serving liquor? Why do we have to tell people they can't?" Nickerson said. "I don't understand the patronizing paternalism that seems to be in the air about serving liquor. This is a free country. Let's keep it free."

Holloway's group works to reduce substance abuse in the area and prevent early substance abuse. She said Brattleboro's liquor laws, updated in 2013, have helped retailers serve alcohol responsibly and build relationships with the town.

"We partnered with the Windham County Prevention Coalition and the Windham Regional Commission to create a primer for towns for regulatory and non-regulatory strategies," Holloway said. "This particular bylaw was highlighted in there. We hope that it will be adopted in other towns. Hopefully you'll be a leader in other towns."

Her group is conducting "mystery shopping" at retailers around town. Holloway said 31 businesses are participating in the program, checking to see whether employees are asking for identification. The customers will be over the age of 21, so businesses will not get into any trouble.

Regarding the number of alcohol retailers, Holloway said the national median in 2010 was 4.8 outlets for every 1,000 residents and Brattleboro has 7.7 outlets per 1,000 residents.

"The Center for Disease Control did a study and found that the greater outlet density is, the higher risk around public health and safety concerns such as higher alcohol consumption, impaired driving, injury, crime, violence," Holloway told the board.

Board member John Allen said the town grapples with the issue because licenses tend to get handed out as requests come in.

"You know, how do you say no at some point?" he asked.

"There's different ways you can do it," said Holloway, including an ordinance restricting the number of retailers in an area close to where children and families congregate.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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