A plan to add 15 more liquor licenses in Waltham to be leased to large restaurant chains to keep pace with commercial development in certain areas is drawing fire from current restaurant owners who say the plan would give the new business an unfair advantage.
Nathan Sigel and Erin Barnicle, owners of Tempo Bistro on Moody Street, said that, since the new restaurants would lease the licenses, the owners would not have the burden of thousand of dollars in start up costs faced by those who had to buy their liquor licenses in a tight market.
"Every person opens a restaurant with a large amount of debt," Sigel said of buying his license to own upfront. "But these big restaurants wouldnít have extra loans to pay off. The city wants to just entice big, giant restaurant companies to come in. Why do the little guys have to pay for the licenses?"
Sigel and Barnicle will present their objections at a public hearing on the license proposal scheduled for Monday,at 7 p.m..
According to Ward One City Councilor Daniel Romard, the city's licensing board wishes to add 10 full liquor licenses and five beer and wine licenses to keep pace with commercial growth in Waltham. Any addition of license would have to be approved by the City Council, state Legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick.
"We all see the need from the growth that is in Waltham, and due to that growth, there is a need for licenses in terms of the venues that have come before us," Romard said.
Waltham currently has about 100 alcohol licenses, doled out by the state and based upon a municipality's population size, said Waltham Board of License Commission Chairman Wayne Brasco.
The new licenses would carry certain restrictions to make them site-specific for mixed-used developments currently underway at locations like the former Polaroid site, the Watch Factory along the Charles River, and certain areas of Totten Pond Road, said Brasco.
To make sure the licenses stay in these specific locations, the city would own the licenses and then lease them out to approved businesses - different from the current model, where restaurant owners buy the licenses upfront, usually ranging in the $100,000 area.
The licenses would also stipulate that full liquor license holders host more than 100 seats, and that beer and wine holders offer at least 60 seats, Brasco said.
"These licenses would be non-transferable, and the more options we can bring to the city to get folks to stay in Waltham and eat and drink in Waltham, thatís a plus and a win-win for everybody," Romard said.
But Sigel said that adding licenses in the city would diminish the value of licenses already held by restaurateurs and the owners of other establishments.
Sigel said some of the value in owning a liquor license comes from only having a limited amount available in one municipality, and adding the rented licenses would depreciate the value of licenses owned by restauranteurs.
Sigel also said that Waltham has already hit their limit of alcohol licenses, and adding more would thin out the customer base for establishments that serve alcohol.
"The additional licenses will of course over-saturate the market," Sigel said. "They make our licenses valueless, and will put a lot of people out of business. They're not thinking about the impact."
Brasco said numerous other towns statewide have applied for and received approval from the state Legislature to add more liquor licenses, and that the requested number is usually whittled down at the state level anyway.
Brasco also said that leasing licenses would might not be as advantageous for owners as buying and owning them.
"If you want Tempo's license, you have to go buy it from him," Brasco said. "But these have no value, and the city will charge you rent. It would be better off [cost-wise] if the restaurant owned the license after a certain time."
Brasco said the intention is not to continue building up Moody Street and Main Street.
"We want to attract corporate business taxpayers in places like the large factory area, the Totten Pond Road area," Brasco said. "Right away, current licensees are panicking. But we donít need any more on Moody Street."
The licensing board would have to get City Council's approval for a home rule petition before submitting the petition to the state Legislature. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick would also have to sign off on the licensing additions.
The public hearing will take place Monday, May 14 at 7 p.m. in City Hall.
Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org