BURLINGTON – If Simon Property Group thought they were going to put one past the Board of Selectmen, they were wrong.
The Selectmen were recently asked to vote yay or nay on a request at the state level through the Burlington Mall’s property owner for nine additional liquor license that would be site-specific to the Mall, including five all-alcoholic and four beer/wine licenses.
The Selectmen officially approved a motion to not support House Bill 3676, requesting the aforementioned nine liquor licenses.
This past September, Town Meeting convincingly supported a Home Rule Petition request from Simon Property Group to ask the state for nine more liquor license, specifically for the Burlington Mall. That decision has led this matter to the most recent Selectmen’s meeting, wherein the state was at the point of moving forward with the petition from Town Meeting for more licenses. The request, which is primarily for the Mall’s redeveloped Sears premises, has to go to the state legislature for a final approval.
Before Town Meeting last September, the Selectmen voted two in favor and three against of the Home Rule Petition. Those who voted against said they thought nine licenses was too many and attempted to compromise with Simon Property Group for a lower amount.
During that Town Meeting session in September, an amendment was put forward lowering the amount of license to a total of five, but the amendment didn’t garner enough support. A recurring argument made for less is that the Burlington Mall already has three liquor licenses available.
Simon Property Group maintained to Town Meeting why the Burlington Mall needs nine additional licenses. The entire first floor of the former Sears building and former Sears Auto Center building have been torn down and are in the process of being reconstructed, and the primary objective is to bring in numerous restaurants, much of which with the ability to serve alcohol. They believe the number being requested is the number needed for the project to be a success. The representative said that in order to move forward, the Burlington Mall needs to fill up at least 50 percent of the new spaces and that can only be achieved by having a sufficient amount of liquor licenses to attract tenants, all of whom covet such licenses.
At its most recent meeting, the Selectmen failed to figure out why Simon Property Group basically circumvented the board throughout the discussion process once September Town Meeting took place.
“I did not know any of this was submitted and taking place. We have been blindsided by this,” said Selectman Robert Hogan, who, along with Selectman Chair Joseph Morandi, have been trying to work with Simon Property Group at the subcommittee level. “Adding nine licenses to a congested [Burlington Mall] gave us concern in regards to public safety and traffic. They said they would halt reconstruction until they got all nine [licenses], which obviously was not true. There are already too many [liquor] licenses in town in that area [3rd Ave., Middlesex Turnpike, The District], and I am worried adding nine to the Mall will negatively impact the other restaurants on Middlesex Turnpike and Burlington Mall Road.”
Selectman Hogan confirmed he has talked with the various committees at the state level and detailed “professional licensure” is where the levels of communication are going to continue between the Selectmen and state.
“That is where we will be kept up to date,” professed Selectman Hogan. “There is nothing on the immediate horizon, in terms of a vote, but we will have to continue to keep in touch.”
The rest of the board also expressed displeasure with how this process ended up, and the possibility of the Burlington Mall having 19 liquor licenses.
“19 licenses at the Mall is a tad excessive, in my opinion,” admitted Selectman Michael Runyan. “The fact that the Mall did not continue conversations with us and instead went to Town Meeting, was disappointing, to say the least.”
Selectman Vice Chair James Tigges, who was one of the two members that voted for the nine-license petition before September Town Meeting, quickly changed his tune, avowing he is “not okay with it.”
Selectman Chair Morandi expounded further on how the process went at the subcommittee level.
“We tried to work every avenue possible and [Burlington Mall] basically said to us, ‘we want the nine licenses, or we don’t want anything at all,’” he revealed.
The Selectmen passionately stood up for the fact that they are the licensing authority in Burlington.
“Why shouldn’t we have a say in the negotiations?” queried Selectman Hogan. “This was just pulled out right from under us, and that is inappropriate.”
As expected, after hearing their comments, the Selectmen unanimously approved a motion to not support House Bill 3676, requesting nine more licenses that would be site-specific to the Burlington Mall.
The state legislature will now weigh the Selectmen’s motion not supporting the petition before any vote is made, so stay tuned for updates on this pressing matter in the coming weeks.