WHEN APPLYING FOR A NEW LIQUOR LICENSE CAN YOUR COMPETITORS OBJECT?

The Law Offices of John P. Connell, P.C.:  The ABCC recently issued a decision that held that the City of Chicopee erred in refusing to grant a petition to transfer a license to a new proposed location that would have been operated by BJ’s Wholesalers. The license had been exercised for over 20 years by Winn Liquors, Inc., at a location approximately two miles from the BJ’s store. In support of the transfer, BJ’s submitted petitions containing over 2,000 signatures, including approximately 640 Chicopee residents. Fourteen opponents spoke at the May 2012 public hearing and submitted a petition signed by 51 residents. Days after the public hearing, the City of Chicopee denied the transfer finding that there was a “lack of public need or interest for another liquor store,” and also because there was “spoken opposition from fourteen area residents and an overflow crowd in the hearing room.” The City also noted that “not a single member of the public spoke in favor of granting the petition.”

In reversing the town’s refusal to allow the license transfer to BJ’s, the ABCC made clear in its decision that a local board must use the same standard applied to new license applications: “whether the re-location of the license will meet a public need.” See our article on assessing public need. http://www.connelllawoffices.com/assessing-the-public-need-of-a-liquor-license/ The ABCC reiterated that a local licensing board must “state the reasons for its denial in its decision.” The ABCC found that the City’s “decision was inadequate” because the findings “lacked legally sufficient grounds in that Chicopee did not set forth anything other than general findings, which are insufficient.”

Significantly, the ABCC further found that at least six of the fourteen opponents were “owners of competing package stores, and two others were current or past employees of competing package stores.” Many of those licensees speaking in opposition to the transfer stated that BJ’s “would harm their businesses.” The ABCC held that the “issue of competition is one that should not be considered when determining whether or not a license should be granted or transferred.”

The ABCC remanded the matter to the City with the recommendation that the transfer be approved. Accordingly, when seeking to establish public need either for a new license or a transfer of a license to a new location, one should alert the local board if there is opposition interposed by competitors that such opposition should not be considered by the local board and that such opposition has nothing to do with whether “public need” exists or not.

Submitted by Gregory Birney

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