Today marks the start of a major policy change in Burlington: City police are clamping down on the number of permits handed out to bars and clubs to host 18-plus nights.
In an effort to clamp down on the throngs of sub-21 drinkers descending upon downtown Burlington, the police will make it more difficult to get special permits to host 18-plus nights.
Instead of blanket one-, three- and six-month permits, all establishments will have to make an event-by-event request, according to a memo to the City Council written by Lt. Art Cyr of the Burlington Police Department.
That means for clubs that had been hosting regular downtown events, a new permit isn't guaranteed.
"The police department will also be limiting the number of permits issued for these events to special occasions only," wrote Cyr. "This change in policy is due to numerous and growing concerns with activities directly related to these events. Just a few of these activities are under-age drinking, disorderly and assaultive behavior, and loitering complaints from surrounding properties and businesses."
Alex Budney, talent buyer and manager of Nectar's and Club Metronome, said his establishment doesn't open up its dance and deejay nights to the 18-plus crowd, so the new rule might not have as significant a financial impact.
"We do it sparingly," said Budney. "We do it on shows when the focus is on the music. Face it, music is part of the arts community and kids come out to see that — not necessarily to party. But I can't speak for other businesses."
Budney said Metronome has a good record of hosting such events, and is hopeful the policy change won't impact business. "It's a little disheartening to hear that we might not be able to do it more often," he said. "But we're not making a big deal out of it."
Cyr said the state Department of Liquor Control weighed in with similar concerns and supports the change. The three establishments most affected were informed of the change in late August.
The department said it will review the policy change in January to see if it's working and determine if the policy should remain in place.
Councilor David Berezniak (D-Ward 2), and one of three members of the city council's licensing committee, said he understands the frustration of downtown bar owners. The licensing committee is chaired by Councilor Vince Dober (R-Ward 7). The third member is Councilor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (P-Ward 3).
The committee did discuss the change with city police and bar owners in the past couple of months.
"I thought the club owners were doing a really good job of making sure that kids who were showing up already drunk weren't being allowed in, and making sure that kids weren't being served," said Berezniak.
The problem is, the kids being turned away would linger or try to get into other 18-plus events being held the same night, he added. With fewer 18-plus events each night, Berezniak said, the goal is to limit the number of underage drinkers flocking downtown.
"The sheer numbers of intoxicated kids showing up was a real problem, so the thought is, if there isn't as many of these events, then they wouldn't be showing up downtown — at least not as many," said Berezniak. There have also been numerous complaints of raucous, pre-event house parties in the downtown neighborhoods.
"The police are open to reviewing this, but they really wanted to be able to spread out these events so they're not all happening on one night, and so they could control the crowds," Berezniak said, noting that it will hurt some downtown club owners. "It was a tough decision to make this change."