HAVERHILL — The City Council approved a request by Mayor James Fiorentini for 10 new liquor licenses, but stressed they should go to restaurants rather than noisy bars that might bother residents.
Fiorentini had downsized his initial request for 40 licenses to just 10, which resulted in the council supporting the lower number when it met last night.
The mayor said having the licenses available helps the city's efforts to attract new restaurants and other establishments that want to serve liquor. He said most restaurants survive on liquor sales, and not food sales.
"Some in the community thought 40 was a little off the charts," Councilor William Ryan said prior to the committee voting 8-0 in favor of increasing the number of licenses from 60 to 70.
"The fact that you reduced it is reasonable," he said to the mayor.
Councilor William Macek, who could not attend last night's meeting, recently said he supported the request for 10 licenses and that adding 40 licenses would have sent the message that Haverhill wants to have bar rooms and nightclubs on every corner.
Ryan said he expects to see 65 licenses in use in the "very near future," with new businesses coming to Haverhill, and asked for assurances that the licenses would be going to restaurants and not bars where "partying" would be going on until 1 or 2 a.m. Ryan called Haverhill's restaurant district a destination for people from across the region.
"We want them to have fun," Ryan said, to which the mayor responded, "But not too much fun."
"We want restaurants downtown, not noisy bars," Fiorentini added.
The licenses are for businesses that serve alcohol on the premises and cost $2,500 annually, plus a $200 application fee. Grille 46 on Washington Street recently got Haverhill's 60th liquor license and until last night's vote by the council there were no more available for new restaurants looking to open in Haverhill.
The city's License Commission had asked for 40 more licenses, indicating it would be enough for the foreseeable future, while the mayor and councilors agreed that it was too many and that more could be approved in the future if needed.
Fiorentini said that in 2009, and prior to the economic downturn, there were 47 establishments serving liquor in Haverhill. He said despite a poor economy, as well as a new local meals tax that went into effect in 2010, an additional 14 establishments opened in the city.
Councilor Sven Amirian called the need for more liquor licenses a "good problem to have" in that the city is undergoing an economic expansion.
"This makes it more palatable," Amirian said about the mayor's request for 10 new licenses and not 40.
Councilor Michael Hart said he was glad to see the request downsized, adding the city's resources are already being challenged with the current number of liquor licenses.
"This will certainly be an improvement," Hart said. "I can support the 10 (new licenses)."
The number of Haverhill liquor licenses was last increased in the early 1980s. The liquor licenses do not cover veterans groups, which fall under separate rules and are not limited in number. Fiorentini said the state does not limit the number of liquor licenses a community can sell. He said Haverhill has no limit on the number of wine and beer licenses it can sell, but that kind of license is not in high demand. Wine and beer licenses cost $1,875 annually.
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