The Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) recently issued a decision in favor of a liquor license applicant in Falmouth.
Murphy’s Package Store (Murphy’s) applied to the Falmouth Board of Selectmen to move from its existing Main Street location to new premises approximately four miles away in West Falmouth. After hearing testimony both in favor and opposed to the move, the Board of Selectmen voted 3 to 2 to deny the application. The issues of traffic and parking at the new location were hot topics at both the Falmouth hearing, and at the subsequent appeal before the ABCC.
The ABCC disapproved of the Board of Selectmen’s denial, and remanded the matter back to the Board with the recommendation that the application be granted. In doing so, the ABCC made statements that may help counter some of the common tactics used by opponents to liquor license transfers.
All cases involving the issuance or transfer of liquor licenses in Massachusetts involve a determination of a public need for the license. However, a licensing board in reaching a decision concerning public need is required to make specific findings that are supported by the record. Regarding Murphy’s, the ABCC stated that the Board of Selectmen’s denial was inadequate as it merely recited a summation of the opponents who testified about parking and traffic. The [ABCC] finds this decision to be a general finding (emphasis added). To distinguish, the ABCC cited the case Exotic Restaurant Concepts and stated that [r]ecitals of testimony do not constitute findings. See Exotic Rests. Concept, Inc. v. Boston Licensing Board, Suffolk Superior Court, C.A. No. 07-3287 (Borenstein, J.). In denying the application for transfer, the Board of Selectmen merely recited the statements of the opponents concerning traffic and parking, and this is insufficient to deny a license transfer. In fact, the record reflected that adequate parking was available and neither the Police Chief nor Fire Chief had any objections to the transfer.
Additionally, the ABCC refused to give any weight to one opponent’s statement that there existed another package store located less than Â½ mile away from the proposed transfer location. The ABCC stated that “[t]his distance between the existing package store and the proposed location of Murphy’s was not verified to the [ABCC], nor was it explained how this distance was calculated or calibrated.”
The ABCC noted that a single liquor store in one area of a town could be considered a monopoly. The ABCC in its decision stated that “the action of the Local Board in denying this application has the effect of continuing in place the monopoly held by the sole § 15 license in this section of the town.”
Based on the ABCC’s Murphy’s decision, liquor license applicants are advised to prepare to substantively counter objections that may be raised by opponents. Common general objections such as traffic, parking, and proximity of other package stores can be countered by a license applicant who builds a strong and detailed record at the hearing.