EDC begins data collection

The Economic Development Commission has begun collecting information from local restaurants and the police department in its mission to possibly extend the hours of restaurants.

It is not a campaign directly tied to restaurant operation hours, but to the hours in which restaurants can serve liquor, said Vivian Lee-Shiue, chair of the commission. However, that would entail keeping restaurants open later, so it is a matter of semantics.

“We are collecting input from the business owners and from the police to support the proposal. We will hopefully propose to the Board of Selectmen that we remove the town-level restriction so that we are more in line with our neighboring towns,” Lee-Shiue said.

Removing the town restriction on liquor hours would be the first movement on the alcohol front since the town allowed Sunday liquor sales in package stores in 2013. Wilton went from dry to partially wet in the 1990s and then voted to have package stores in 2009. There are package stores, country clubs and restaurants that sell or serve liquor, but no bars. The town would then be under the guidelines set by the state, which Lee-Shiue said means restaurants could close at 1 a.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends. (Package stores may remain open only until 8 p.m. on weekdays, 5 p.m. on Sundays.)

The timing of the proposal will be based on when the commission can collect all its information and get onto the Board of Selectmen’s agenda, she said. She said the Board of Selectmen would have to make the decision.

“At this point, we are not addressing the permits in town but will look at those sometime in the future,” Lee-Shiue said, referring to future businesses that want to open.

Restaurants in town generally close at 10 or 11 p.m.

“I would think they would welcome it,” said Tom Sato, president of the Chamber of Commerce, in a recent interview on the subject. “I think restaurants would be all for it,” Sato said.

Closing hours are controlled on two fronts in town. One is the town liquor ordinances, which allow for package stores, restaurants and country clubs that serve alcohol. Any change here regarding closing times would involve a change in the ordinances town residents voted on.

The other means of controlling restaurant hours is through the Planning and Zoning Commission. Individual restaurants would have to try to get their permissions amended, said Bob Nerney, the town’s planning director.

“From a zoning perspective, restaurants involve takeout food and are regulated by a special permit, so it requires a commission review,” said Nerney, who added that in the past the commission imposed conditions to allow special permits to fit into the character of certain areas. One frequent condition was the limitation of hours, to 11 p.m., for instance. “I think the rationale behind it is if restaurants are in areas where there may be noise concerns,” Nerney said. “They look at it from a land-use impact.”

While there is the broader issue of the town liquor sales ordinances, from a P&Z perspective “the businesses would have to come back before the commission to ask that their restriction be amended or removed, and the commission would look at that based on the normal regulatory criteria,” Nerney said.

First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice declined to comment on the issue because it has not come to the Board of Selectmen and she felt it would be premature to discuss it.

Second Selectman Michael Kaelin appears to be warming to the idea.

“I am in favor of it based upon what I have heard so far, but I am going to keep an open mind until we consider it as a board,” Kaelin said.