Burlington Council Approves Limits on Alcohol Sales, House Parties | Off Message

Burlington Council Approves Limits on Alcohol Sales, House Parties


Church Street Marketplace - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Church Street Marketplace
Burlington bars and restaurants must stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m. through at least September 14, the city council decided during an emergency meeting Thursday. Residential gatherings also face new limits.

The measures, very similar to those proposed on Tuesday by Mayor Miro Weinberger, are intended to reduce the risk of coronavirus outbreaks once university and K-12 classes resume.

Three councilors were not present for the final vote, but the nine who were unanimously passed the emergency resolution over objections from some downtown bar owners who said their businesses were being unfairly targeted.

"We have been completely compliant, and it's not fair to scapegoat the bar industry," said Sean McKenzie, beverage director at the Archives arcade bar on College Street, adding that he would need to lay off employees as a result.

Weinberger had sought to end service at 10 p.m. through September 30, citing evidence that late-night venues have contributed to case surges elsewhere.

"Over the summer, a number of outbreaks in the U.S. were traced back to 'super spreader' events in bars, which resulted in a reversal of reopening plans, once again closing these establishments," he wrote in a memo explaining his proposal.

Thursday's action made use of emergency municipal powers granted by Gov. Phil Scott last week.
In addition to limiting alcohol sales, the Burlington resolution caps outdoor residential gatherings at 25 people and indoor ones at 10. Indoor gatherings can increase to 15 if at least five attendees are members of the same household. The limits are effective immediately.

City analysts settled on the figures using a risk assessment tool produced by Georgia Institute of Technology researchers. In an accompanying memo, they listed counties in other states, including those that host Penn State University and the University of Connecticut, that have enacted similar restrictions on gathering sizes.

Councilors quickly reached agreement on the gathering size restrictions, which are aimed at cracking down on college house parties. Sightings of outdoor parties in recent weeks have sent residents near the University of Vermont campus into an anxious frenzy.
The bar rules generated more debate. Councilor Brian Pine (P-Ward 3) argued that the curfew would push students into private parties that are harder to regulate. "In my mind, we are essentially trading one risk for another," he said, echoing the logic of a few bar managers who spoke.

"College students are going to party either way," said a public commenter who only identified himself as Zach, a representative from the Ruben James bar on Main Street. "Bars provide a safe environment that's controlled, sanitized and has worked throughout the whole summer."

Pine's amendment to set aside the alcohol restrictions narrowly failed. He later supported the approved resolution with an 11 p.m. cutoff.

Burlington Business Association executive director Kelly Devine urged the council to exempt restaurants from the limits. The initial 10 p.m. cutoff would reduce revenue for businesses that offer late dinner service, she said.

The time restriction does not apply to most closed-bottle retail alcohol sales, City Attorney Eileen Blackwood said.

Weinberger said he envisioned the regulations as a preemptive effort that could be rolled back if Burlington doesn't see an infection spike over the next few weeks.

The amended resolution, introduced by Sarah Carpenter (D-Ward 4), requires the city council to revisit the limits by September 14.

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