More Regulation for Extended Bar Service Bill to Come, Sen. Brownsberger says

State legislators are once again considering a Boston proposal to let bars in some neighborhoods – such as the Seaport – stay open past 2 a.m.

The Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure has set a tentative hearing date on Nov. 10 for a proposed bill that would allow communities within MBTA service areas to grant special licenses allowing bars to operate with later closing times. The bill was proposed by Mayor Walsh and filed at his request by Sen. William Brownsberger (D-Belmont), who represents Back Bay, Fenway, Brighton and part of Allston.

Brownsberger said the current proposal is a first draft and that he wants to see language added that would specifically protect neighborhoods that don’t want longer hours at their neighborhood bars.

In an interview with Universal Hub, Brownsberger said the legislation will only go into effect in neighborhoods that “need and want this additional flexibility.”

“I think that the bill that’s currently been filed, I like to think of it as a very first draft,” he said. “It’s not clear whether it will go forward at all – it needs work and discussion – but if it moves at all I’m sure that this bill will end up looking rather different than it looks now.”

Current statewide laws prohibit bars from being open between the hours of 2 a.m. and 8 a.m., regardless of local preferences.

Mayor Walsh has said in the past that the move would make Boston more competitive in attracting young professionals who might otherwise be tempted by cities with later nightlife hours.

Brownsberger added the measure could improve “economic vitality in places where that makes sense.”

The senator acknowledged the current bill lacks restrictions and protections for Boston neighborhoods who oppose later hours, but said these issues will be resolved during committee meetings with community input as the bill goes through the legislative process.

“The legislative process is something that moves in a lot of stages,” he said. “The first stage is just filing the bill, and all that does is lay down a marker that this is something worth discussing. What I’ll tell the committee is that this bill is absolutely only a starting point, and that I certainly expect them to narrow it down … and carve out the neighborhoods that really need this and want this additional flexibility.”

Paul Berkeley of the Allston Civic Association said the bill needs to be refined to reflect which areas of the city will be allowed to experiment with later service hours, and that this process should’ve taken place with community outreach and discussion before the bill reached legislature.

“I would like for this bill to be shopped around so that people have a chance to weigh in on it,” Berkeley said. “They should’ve gone out to the communities first and said, ‘this is something we want to try – what do you think? What are your concerns?’ None of that has happened. The bill is moving its way to the legislature and I have yet to hear of a single community meeting where people were asked about this. They could’ve done that through some night-time meetings in the community first, and gotten people’s feedback and perhaps produced a bill that’s more reflective of what people want to see.”

Berkeley said he is not completely opposed to the bill in areas that need and want later service hours, but wants to make sure this provision won’t become a free-for-all in terms of all-night service throughout the city.

One neighborhood the city has is mind is the South Boston Waterfront. Stacked with many hotels and few residences, the neighborhood may provide the right environment for later nightlife compared to residential areas like Brighton, Fenway and Back Bay, where residents are concerned with late night street noise disrupting their community.

A public forum on Sen. Brownsberger’s website with 96 responses reveals mixed feelings regarding the bill. Some comments cite concerns for residential neighborhoods and increased alcohol violence with extended consumption, while others say extended hours provide a safer drinking environment and will reduce the number of drunken individuals stumbling into residential areas to continue partying once bars close at 2 a.m.

Berkeley also said legislators need to consider transportation before approving this bill, noting that once 2 a.m. hits, many consumers are likely to travel from bars required to close to parts of the city with later nightlife. The issue of drunk driving then becomes a concern that would affect the entire city.

As written, the bill lacks specific details, including how late these bars would remain open and if the city would provide extended transportation hours to match late night business.

Gabrielle Farrell of the mayor’s office said Mayor Walsh proposed the bill to “begin a conversation” regarding the “one-size-fits-all approach” when it comes to existing state licensing regulations. However, when asked about the mayor’s vision in how this bill would be implemented, Farrell said “proposing any detailed changes to current licensing structure that is outside of the city’s local authority would be premature.”

A press release from the mayor’s office said if approved, the city will conduct a public process for input before implementing a pilot program exploring the success of extended bar hours in Boston.

Manager Colin Edmeade of Gather, a full-service bar and restaurant in the Seaport District that overlooks the Boston Harbor, said he supports later service hours but understands the implications and concerns that come with it.

“It would be good for business provided the city has proper transportation for people after,” Edmeade said, adding that extended MBTA hours to match closing times would act as an effective solution.

With so many hotels close by, Edmeade said extended business hours would attract more of these out-of-town visitors to stay out later and allow bars to capitalize on that business. However, he also noted that later hours raise concerns of overconsumption, although he said that issue falls back on the consumer “to police themselves properly.”

Brownsberger said currently the bill is in premature stages, having not gone through the hearing process yet, but that he is confident the legislature will find a solution that pleases both parties for and against the bill by adding more regulations and protections within the specific details of the bill.

“I think the opinion is very divided. I think people who come to community meetings to preserve the quality of life tend to be opposed to anything that might lead to, now or in the future, any extension of bar hours,” he said. “And so that’s something we have to be very concerned about – protecting neighborhoods that don’t want this. But in the end there are a number of people who really do like the idea, so we have to feel our way really carefully through this legislation and that’s certainly what we intend to do.”

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