© The Stoneham Independent

STONEHAM, MA - As expected, Town Planner Erin Wortman this spring will ask local residents to slash the Town of Stoneham's minimum seating capacity for liquor licenses from 50 to 35 seats.

During a Board of Selectmen meeting on Tuesday, the elected officials agreed as promised to sponsor the warrant article on behalf of community development director, who earlier this year suggested the minimum seating requirement for pouring licenses was too burdensome for smaller mom-and-pop restaurants.

By having the selectmen as sponsors of the article, to be featured on the warrant for this May's Annual Town Meeting, Wortman won't have to gather signatures for registered voters. However, the board has not yet rendered a formal recommendation on the bylaw change.

Earlier this winter, the selectmen appeared supportive of the proposal.

Wortman approached the town officials in early January after she was asked by a number of local merchants to review Stoneham's liquor licensing rules, which some business leaders feel aren't comparable to the standards of surrounding communities.

Many of the restaurant proprietors claimed they were eyeing major renovations to their interior dining spaces, but because those overhauls would likely threaten their compliance with the 50-seat rule, they were unable to do so.

The town planner also believes that by loosening the rules to allow smaller eateries to obtain liquor licenses, commercial spaces plagued by constant tenant turnover might begin to flourish.

"I'd also like to give some smaller spaces in town that are struggling with turnovers and vacancies a chance to be what they're destined to be," she added. "Nothing else would change. People would still have to order food [in order to purchase an alcoholic beverage] and bar rooms are still not allowed."

Presently, Stoneham, unlike many neighboring communities, has quite a few liquor licenses available for restaurants. In total, the municipality has 11 on-premise consumption permits, including 5 that are just for beer and wine service.

According to Town Administrator Thomas Younger, he believes the bylaw change will not only foster new growth, but it will attract the types of niche market restauranteurs known for revitalizing downtown urban areas.

"I'm very supportive of this. It's pro economic development and when you do 35-seat restaurants, it will encourage more of the boutique [eateries] that go after beer and wine licenses. It makes livelier and more vibrant community," he said.

Town officials, who at one point had a 100-seat requirement for liquor licenses, have previously attempted to reduce liquor seating requirements without success.

Back in 2012, the Board of Selectmen supported a similar loosening of Stoneham's liquor licensing regulations, but those initiatives ultimately never made it to Town Meeting.

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