Proposed Legislation Would Put Further Restrictions on Beer Gardens

Although open-air beer gardens throughout the city like the Trillium Garden on the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway, the Owl’s Nest on the Charles River Esplanade and the Castle Island Beer Garden on Constitution Wharf in Charlestown enjoyed unmitigated success last summer, two state lawmakers have proposed a bill that would put further restrictions on the blossoming beer gardens.

Sens. Nick Collins of South Boston and Ed Kennedy of Lowell are sponsoring the proposed legislation that would prohibit any individual or entity from getting any more than 14 one-day licenses in a year while the current yearly limit caps it at 30 licenses per applicant.

While its specific language has yet to be finalized, the Kennedy-Collins bill could stymie many of the city’s beer gardens, which operate seasonally with multiple parties applying for a series of one-day licenses, as well as nonprofits that depend on one-day licenses to host fundraising events.

State Rep. Jay Livingstone, who serves as vice chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, which would consider the bill if it moves forward, has reservations about the legislation as currently proposed, although he said he isn’t opposed to establishing a more uniform approach to regulating beer gardens.

“I think it as it’s currently written, the bill will create a lot of unintended consequences…[but] having a clearer regulations on beer gardens might make sense,” Livingstone said. “Some of the beer gardens that would be impacted are also great amenities that are enjoyed by a lot of residents, so I don’t support ending them.”

Livingstone added, “I’m looking forward to the discussion to [determine] what some of the sponsors believe to be a problem.”

Michael Nichols, executive director of the Esplanade Association, credits the Owl’s Nest beer garden for creating a pleasant and welcoming atmosphere that allowed more than 50,000 visitors to the park to enjoy beer, wine, cider and non-alcoholic beverages along the banks of the Charles River last summer.

“Beer gardens like the Owl’s Nest spur positive use of public spaces as they provide enhanced concessions, additional public bathrooms and seating, and a family- and dog-friendly environment while also providing revenue that goes directly back to the maintenance and improvement of the park,” Nichols wrote in regard to the beer garden that was launched via a unique partnership that included the nonprofit, Everett-based Night Shift Brewing and the Department of Conservation and Recreation. “The legislation, as filed, would eliminate the possibility of repeating this activation in 2019 and beyond. We hope the Legislature does not act to restrict these positive outcomes.”

In response to criticism, Collins, whose district includes the Trillium beer garden on the Greenway, replied that he “enjoy[s] beer gardens as much as anyone and love the vibrancy they bring to our communities,” but that he is instead merely seeking to put an end to the “ineffective” and “unfair” system that allows companies to bypass regulations by gaining access to “unlimited” one-day licenses.

“‘One-day’ licenses are a flat $75-$150 fee, with no public process or hearing,” Collins posted at votenickcollins.com. “That is fine for one-day occasions, as they were designed, but for seasonal operations we should have a system in place that reflects the true nature of the license. By comparison, full liquor licenses for restaurants are often valued between $250,000 and $500,000 on the private market.”

Meanwhile, the Boston City Council is currently considering a home-rule petition filed by Mayor Marty Walsh that would then makes its way to the state legislature seeking 184 nontransferable liquor licenses for distribution to new neighborhood restaurants by the city, not the state.

“I am committed to ensuring that liquor licenses in Boston are used as an economic development tool to uplift our neighborhoods and support our restaurants,” Walsh said in a statement. “My administration is working to secure passage of legislation that will increase the number of licenses for our neighborhood establishments. This bill creates a new process for large-scale developments to ensure that the new licenses that would be generated from the proposal are preserved for local businesses.” The mayor said that he is looking forward to hearing further discussions about other proposed legislation related to liquor licenses during the public processes at the City Council and State Legislature levels.

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