Brasco said the city is not aiming to take business away from Moody and Main streets, but rather wants to use the licenses to boost development in other parts of Waltham.
Local restaurants say the plan would give new businesses an unfair advantage, and lure customers away from downtown.
The proposal, which drew fire at a public hearing in May, is being considered by the City Council’s Committee of the Whole.
Barnicle said although she is confident that Tempo Bistro has found a following that secures its future, the threat of corporate chains establishing in Waltham makes her nervous.
She said adding larger restaurant chains will only make the turnover in downtown Waltham spike.
“It’s challenging for the independently owned restaurants,” Barnicle said. Larger chains “have the support to be able to stay open because they have millions of dollars backing them, whereas the little guy only has his life savings, which could run out pretty fast if they don’t have guests.”
However, officials like Brasco say that without adding the additional licenses — which would be owned by the city and rented out to restaurants with limitations — Waltham will not be able to keep pace with commercial development elsewhere in the area.
“We’re trying to get the best quality, the best fit for Waltham,” Brasco said, noting that the city could accommodate many daytime workers employed in nearby Burlington. “We’re looking to serve a swelling population during the day for lunch, and why should we lose that revenue? There is employment and tax dollars there.”
Even as some small eateries close and others open downtown, Mayor Jeannette McCarthy said, she does not think the turnover is too severe. The mayor said that although she feels sad seeing landmark restaurants like Sadie’s close their doors, she thinks the Moody Street area remains a desirable place to open a restaurant.
“We have a nice downtown that continues to attract people for their food,” McCarthy said. “Any type of thing you want to eat, you can eat in Waltham. It’s always reinventing itself.”
McCarthy also said some of the closed operations have already found takers for their liquor and restaurant licenses.
“As long as more restaurants come in, and the license is transferred, that’s my only concern,” McCarthy said, noting Boca’s licenses are being sold privately. “As long as it’s being reutilized, I think that’s healthy for the downtown.”
And even as some small restaurants suffer, others are booming, officials said. Owners of In A Pickle, a popular breakfast and lunch spot on Main Street, are eyeing a larger storefront on Moody Street to better accommodate their growing customer base, Brasco said.
“If you drive by in the morning, there’s always a line out the door,” Brasco said, laughing. “You’d think they’re giving away a free tank of gas with every meal.”
Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.