Published in the December 1, 2016 edition
By BOB TUROSZ
NORTH READING – After taking the matter under consideration for a couple of weeks and reopening the public hearing last Monday night, the Selectmen voted 4 to 1 to deny the transfer of a beer and wine license previously held by Tedeschi Food Shoppe, 202 North St. to the Richdale Convenience Store at 4 Lowell Rd.
In refusing to approve transfer of the license, the board members cited several reasons, including traffic concerns about the new location, (the busy intersection of Lowell Road and Main Street) and the conviction of several members that there is no public need for a beer and wine license so close to a full service liquor store a couple of hundred feet away.
A bit of background: The hearing was originally held in early November on the petition of Chris Pendleton, owner of the former Tedeschi’s store and holder of the beer and wine license. Pendleton was seeking approval to transfer the license to Vivek Patel, owner of the Richdale Store at 4 Lowell Rd.
Selectmen postponed a decision on the license and asked for pertinent information because of traffic concerns raised by opponents of the license transfer.
Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto read a police department report on traffic at the Lowell Road location, which said in the last year there have been eight calls for service and 38 calls for service in the last five years. There were two car crashes at the location in the last year and 11 in the last five years, he said. The town engineer submitted a report on the traffic pattern in the plaza parking lot that said it has two access locations, one of which poses a problem because of its proximity to the intersection and crosswalk. Increased use of this entrance could pose safety concerns, especially for cars turning north, the report said. And neither access point is clearly marked and there are no turn restrictions exiting the parking lot, the report said.
Atty. Gregory Demakis of Lynn, representing the applicant, said these statistics mean nothing in a vacuum. He pointed out that when the license was held by Tedeschi’s, there was another store, (Speedway), 400 feet away and three within six-tenths of a mile with liquor licenses. At the new location there are only two stores within six-tenths of a mile, he said.
All of this begs the question, he said, where would the public need be served if this location is deemed inappropriate, he asked. “There’s no other location, reasonably, that would be any less densely populated with liquor licenses than this one.”
Voting in favor of the license transfer was Selectman Jeff Yull, who said he wanted to leave the decision up to the “free market.”
Yull said the public would decide whether there’s a need. “If there is no need, the public won’t go there,” he said. Having the license should improve the revenue of the business and help the town,” he stated. “I would be in support of leaving it up to the free market.”
Other members saw the matter differently.
Kathryn Manupelli felt it’s incumbent on the Selectmen to make that decision on behalf of their constituents. When the board previously refused to transfer the license back in August, it was partly based on the lack of public need for another license, she said.
“A public need doesn’t exist and it is important for us to consider the traffic issues,” she said.
Stephen O’Leary said the same Lowell Road location applied for a license back in 2000 and the board refused. The same concerns were expressed at the time about the location and the public need. That denial was appealed to the state ABCC, which upheld the Selectmen’s refusal. A license there would only increase traffic at the intersection and there’s a full service liquor store only two doors away, he noted.
Michael Prisco concurred. “A liquor license in town is not an entitlement, it’s a privilege. The location where you want to place this license doesn’t make a lot of sense.” He said from an economic development standpoint, it would be better for the town to have this license available for future use.
The fourth No vote came from Chairman Robert Mauceri, who said he couldn’t “get past the fact that there’s a liquor store right across the street.”
On a motion from Manupelli, seconded by Prisco, the board denied the license transfer based on the likelihood it would increase traffic at a dicey location; there is already a full service liquor store two buildings away; in the past, a license there was opposed by residents and the license is not in the public need.
Health Insurance update
After a lengthy review of the town’s health insurance program for 2017, the board voted to change the plan design for retirees and institute a $10 co-pay for office visits effective Jan. 1, 2017. The vote was unanimous, with Jeff Yull recusing himself from the discussion and the vote.
The Selectmen didn’t want to hit the retirees with office visit co-pays but given the rising cost of health insurance, they felt they had no choice.
“We looked at so many other options, this is clearly the lesser of two evils,” said Prisco. “This is a trend that is going to continue until this is faced at the national or state level.”
O’Leary agreed. “We’ve spent a lot of time and energy to analyze the plans and offer the best possible care for our retirees.