BERLIN — The town’s decision to expand the area where people can sell and drink alcohol during town events met with no opposition Monday.
“The purpose is to make this much more practical in its enforcement,” said Mayor Gee Williams of the change to existing town code.
A public hearing to discuss the amendment brought no criticism, only questions.
Local business owner Gail Lewis of M.R. Ducks and the Water’s Edge Gallery asked for clarification on who would be able to sell alcohol under the new ordinance.
“It is the same as it is now,” Williams said. “Nothing changes.”
Williams explained that only two kinds of groups could sell alcohol under the proposed code change — businesses with liquor licenses in town and non-profit groups with the same type of license.
“So far, the Chamber of Commerce is the only organization that has done that,” said Williams.
The mayor went on to say that no one in town should be worried about alcohol sales on the street becoming a rule, rather than an exception. There will only be a limited number of events, according to Williams, that will be suitable for public alcohol sales.
Octoberfest and New Year’s Eve were the two celebrations he cited, though Economic and Community Development Director Michael Day has previously mentioned the possibility of adding events like the Jazz and Blues Fest and Fiddlers Convention to the roster.
Another safe guard emphasized by Williams was the fact that events that could allow alcohol sales need to be endorsed by the council.
“Every event has to be approved each time,” he told Gail Lewis.
Businessman Lloyd Lewis didn’t express any problems with the idea of town alcohol sales, but did worry about how open the language was in regard to what types of containers would be protected by the amendment. He suggested that glass containers be prohibited for safety reasons, advice the council agreed was sound. That clause was added to the ordinance unanimously.
Berlin Chamber President Elaine Brady spoke up in support of the proposal. This year’s Octoberfest, which was a first for the town, served as a test run for the chamber selling alcohol in a public area. While the beer garden offered during the event has been considered a huge success, Brady pointed out that the concept was not without flaws.
The main issue, she told the council, was how technicalities in the liquor license acquired for the beer garden conflicted with those present in the licenses of town businesses, notably the Atlantic Hotel. Because of license restrictions, festival-goers who decided they would rather have wine or a mixed drink from the hotel and those who stuck to the traditional beer garden found themselves on different sides of a border, where neither group was legally allowed to bring their drink to the other area.
“We were calling it the Berlin Wall,” joked Brady.
According to Williams, the divide was an unfortunate hiccup as Berlin continues to expand with new events and policies.
“It’s the irony of these growing pains,” he said.
Under the new code, there will be no arbitrary borders and people who purchase alcohol from the chamber will be able to drink it anywhere within the confines of an event. Williams called the proposal “updating to reality” and noted that Berlin would not be doing anything other towns haven’t done already. It will also allow the chamber to keep up with similar organizations in neighboring areas, according to Williams.
“We’re trying to be competitive in all manner of things,” he said.
The council unanimously agreed to accept the proposal.