Somerville Explores Unlimited Licenses

In an effort to boost business, the Somerville Board of Aldermen is crafting legislation for Beacon Hill that would give the city an unlimited number of beer, wine and liquor licenses to distribute to qualified bars and restaurants, reports the Somerville Journal.

Those bars would still need to make a case before the Licensing Commission, but unlike the current system, there would be an unlimited number of licenses for the city to award.

At a Legislative Matters Committee meeting last week, Alderman at Large Jack Connolly said the board should “exercise a very wide degree of caution.”

Cambridge does not have a state-imposed cap on the number of licenses but the city has a self-imposed cap on the number of licenses that can be awarded in a particular neighborhood. On the contrary, Somerville has a limit of 84 liquor licenses – and 10 of those need to be located in the still undeveloped Assembly Square.

This March, Las Brisas – on the McGrath Highway – beat out a Brazilian barbecue on Lower Broadway and a Korean restaurant in Union Square for the city’s only available beer and wine license. After that, Ward 1 Alderman Bill Roche, who had supported Las Brisas at the Licensing Commission, argued that the city’s cap should be lifted.

The new licenses that would be available if the cap is indeed lifted would be non-transferable and owned by the city, which is the case for 12 of the current liquor licenses, as well as the 10 reserved for Assembly Square.

Alderman at Large Bill White expressed concern that uncapping the licenses would devalue them, but Economic Development Director Rob May claimed the 49 liquor licenses currently owned by bars and restaurants in Somerville would retain their value.

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