New liquor hours ordinance moves forward

There was overwhelming support for an initiative to bring Wilton’s liquor ordinance in line with state statutes at a public hearing on March 27 at Middlebrook School. Specifically, it affects when restaurants and bars may serve alcoholic beverages.

The Board of Selectmen held the hearing prior to its regular meeting Monday night and five people stepped up to offer verbal support. First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice also read off the names of more than a dozen people who wrote in supporting the measure, and the name of one dissenter.

After closing the hearing, Vanderslice said the matter will be the subject of discussion at the board’s next meeting, on April 3, 7:30 p.m., in Room B of town hall. The selectmen will then vote whether to put the matter on the ballot at the Annual Town Meeting on May 2.

As read by Second Selectman Mike Kaelin, the statute prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages:

  • Monday through Friday between 1 a.m. and 9 a.m.;

  • Saturday between 2 a.m. and 9 a.m.;

  • Sunday between 2 a.m. and 11 a.m.;

  • Jan. 1 between 3 a.m. and 9 a.m.

The impetus to change the hours came from the town’s Economic Development Commission, which has the support of local businesses.

Phil Lauria, a member of the commission, said he believes the new hours will keep residents in town for a longer period of time to support local businesses.

He pointed out surrounding towns are also moving to state statutes and this will keep Wilton competitive. He also suggested this might attract more restaurants to town.

Also speaking on behalf of the measure were Warren Serenbetz, Deborah McFadden, and police Capt. John Lynch.

“We need to do everything we can to support our local businesses and our local economic development,” McFadden said. “I think it’s a smart move and I think we ought to be in line with state regs and be competitive with our surrounding communities … as long as the police department is comfortable with the changing regulations.”

She also observed having a measure concerning alcohol on the ballot brings out voters in greater numbers.

Brian Lilly asked if there was any analysis done on how much revenue expanding the hours would generate for the town. Vanderslice said the proposal was brought by restaurant owners to the Economic Development Commission, “but we haven’t looked at the benefit .”

He also asked if more police officers would have to be assigned later hours to accommodate the new closing times. Vanderslice said both Chief Robert Crosby and incoming chief John Lynch said patrol staffing was adequate during those times, a comment Lynch reiterated in person at the hearing.

Lynch added “with the advent of Uber, it’s a lot safer.”

Jeff Rutishauser spoke to the real estate benefit. “One of the areas where we have the greatest vacancies in town is in retail properties and we don’t have a lot of tenants, restaurants being a major one that will come in… and to the extent we can make the laws work better for them, it should generate more demand for those types of tenants and start to fill up things like the Stop & Shop vacancies we have.”

That would have some effect on the grand list, he added.