Following last night’s public hearing on the town’s proposed FY’18 budget, the Board of Selectmen held a second public hearing, this time to allow residents to give feedback on a proposed ordinance change that would extend the hours Wilton restaurants could serve liquor.

At the hearing, all of the residents who spoke did so in favor of the ordinance change, including incoming police chief (and resident) John Lynch. First selectman Lynne Vanderslice then read a list of residents who had written letters to the BoS about the subject, and all were in favor except one. That letter is included in the comments below because the writer, Jon Jankus, sent it to GOOD Morning Wilton for publication.

The ordinance change will be discussed by the BoS at its April 3 meeting, to vote on whether or not to put the question on the ballot for residents to vote on at the Annual Town Meeting on May 2.

The proposed ordinance will match Wilton’s hours with those outlined in the state’s laws. The change was recommended by Wilton’s Economic Development Commission, the members of which have said that Wilton’s local liquor sales ordinance was more restrictive on restaurants than the state’s, and was seen to hamper not only current restaurant business but also prospective new businesses from considering Wilton as a possible location. Surrounding towns, including Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, New Canaan, Westport and Norwalk all allowed longer hours than Wilton for restaurants to serve and sell liquor.

Changing the ordinance would extend Monday-Thursday hours from 11 a.m.-11 p.m. in Wilton to 9 a.m.-1 a.m.; Friday and Saturday hours would increase from 11 a.m.-midnight in Wilton to 9 a.m.-2 a.m.; and Sunday hours would grow from noon-11 p.m. in Wilton to 10 a.m.-1 a.m..

Public Comment

Phil Lauria:  I’m a member of the Economic Development Commission. We worked very hard to bring a look at this statute on behalf of those businesses in town. Anecdotally, they are all very supportive of it. As a resident, we think it’s great that we’re going to be able to have and keep residents in town for a longer period of time to support those businesses.

Surrounding towns are in a competitive frame, they are working within the state statutes. We think it will be a great advantage to attracting more restaurants in town, and for those that are here to serve the community, and be open a little longer. I think it’s a very good thing and hope everyone will support that as well.

Warren Serenbetz:  As one who utilizes bar facilities in Wilton rather frequently, [crowd laughter] personally I like that they close at 11 o’clock because it makes me go home. That aside, I appreciate that the EDC thinks it’s important for the town and I agree that it’s important for the town so I would support the change in the ordinance.

Brian Lilly:  Has anyone done any analysis as to how much revenue it would generate for the town to expand the hours, and how much tax revenue it would bring into the town by expanding those hours?

Vanderslice: No, it was brought to the EDC by restaurant owners seeking to do this, but we looked at any benefits to the town itself.

Lilly: Has anyone thought of, with our police force, if we would we have to staff more police officers later due to the bars being open later?

Vanderslice:  We discussed that with current Chief Crosby and incoming Chief John Lynch and nether one saw that to be an issue or a need, that current staffing and current patrol could handle it.

Lilly:  So as far as we know now, its only a benefit tax-wise to bring in more revenue and more tax base?

Vanderslice:  Conceivably it could bring in more restaurants, yes. We get very little sales tax from the state–but if the CCM’s proposal goes through to add local sales tax, then yes, we may see a little.

Deborah McFadden:  This is going to be a little ironic:  I spoke against the liquor stores, and I spoke against the beer sales in the grocery stores. But, unless the police department has some reservation, which apparently there isn’t, I am supporting this. We need to be competitively able to compete with our neighbors. We need to do everything we can for the local businesses and our local economic development. It’s a smart move, we ought to be in line with state regs in what’s allowed, and be in line with our surrounding communities. I’m sure there will be a few people who will raise their eyebrows that Deborah McFadden is supporting something that involves alcohol. But as a Wilton resident I think it’s appropriate for local businesses, as long as the police department is comfortable with the change. I’m for it.

I’m not likely to be supporting any other alcoholic things, [crowd laughter] but I do want to say I’m a little excited because being involved in the election process, we usually see an uptick in voter participation during municipal elections when we have alcohol on the ballot. I’m looking for additional people to be involved in the process. It’s unfortunate it requires alcohol for people to participate, but I’m looking forward to more people actually coming out.

John Lynch:   Captain of the Police Department, also a resident.  The Police Department did look at the ordinance, it’s just becoming less restrictive. The support I’ve heard for it, I haven’t heard anything against it. We looked at if we need more patrols. No, we have the minimum staffing that covers that. Do we foresee any major issues, with increased traffic, increased drinking and driving? No, we don’t. We’d like to see people that live in town enjoying restaurants here. One of my officers who works midnights made the comment, “Everybody out there is an Uber driver.” So with Uber it’s a lot safer, so we don’t see anything that would be negative about it.

Jeff Rutishauser:  I want to talk to the real estate benefit:  one area we have the greatest vacancy is retail properties. We don’t have a lot of tenants, restaurants being one of the largest one that will come in and establish a base. The extent we can make the laws better for them, it should generate more demand for those kinds of tenants, and start to fill up the Stop & Shop vacancies we have. We don’t benefit directly from that, but the extent that the properties fill up, they’ll be more valuable, therefore we get an increased grand list value based on restaurants that otherwise would not come in here.

Vanderslice:  We have received letters all in support, except for one:  [written by] Julie Stein, Franklin Wong, Lisa Schneider, Ann Nash, Gretchen Jeans, Connie Jo Dickerson and John Young; the Wilton Chamber of Commerce (the executive director), Gil and Patricia Bray, Dan Berg, Don Sauvigne (police commissioner and resident), and Ross Tartell. Jon Jankus wrote in opposition [Editor’s note, the letter was not read at the hearing but we are reprinting it here as it was sent to GMW by the writer]:

Dear Selectmen:

Here is what extending drinking hours accomplishes. Please do not vote to extend hours that liquor is available. People’s lives depend on it. And feel free to ask the owners of these businesses if this would increase Economic Development.

Jonathan Jankus

Editor’s note:  the investigation on the accident that occurred Saturday morning, March 25 is still ongoing. The police have not released any information about whether alcohol was involved in this accident.