The town of Sharon may soon allow stores to sell hard liquor for the first time, if a town meeting approves the measure Monday.
Under existing policy, restaurants can be licensed to serve all types of alcoholic beverages, but stores are limited to beer and wine.
The article before Town Meeting calls for Sharon to submit a home-rule petition to the Legislature to allow alcohol sales in three areas of town.
Town officials who favor the change say they hope to boost business and convenience; similar sentiments have loosened alcohol restrictions elsewhere in recent years, such as in nearby Westwood, where the town decided in 2008 to allow a proposed Wegmans store to sell beer and wine.
Westwood was one of a shrinking number of “dry” towns in Massachusetts until 2005, when the town began allowing restaurants there to serve alcohol. But it did not allow stores to sell beer and wine until the Wegmans decision.
Today, eight dry towns remain in Massachusetts, mainly in the western part of the state, the Elizabeth Islands, and the town of Chilmark on Martha’s Vineyard.
Benjamin Puritz, the town administrator in Sharon, said liquor stores in neighboring communities draw customers out of town.
“I think from an equity point on view . . . it’s disadvantageous for Sharon not to be able to offer the same kinds of alcohol options of each of the contiguous communities,” he said.
The vote comes at a time when the state is gradually increasing the number of off-premises licenses a store may hold, thus allowing chains to sell alcohol at more locations. Until this year, a store could hold only three such licenses; the number is now five and will rise to seven in 2016 and nine in 2020.
The Town Meeting article calls for Sharon to submit the home-rule petition for liquor sales in Shaw’s Plaza, the Route 1 area, and the proposed Sharon Commons development, all of them near highways.
Food markets that sell beer and wine elsewhere in town have raised objections, saying liquor stores that offer one-stop shopping will leave them behind.
“It will certainly draw business away from me,” said Jonathan Hall, owner of the Sharon Market, located in the center of town.
Richard Powell, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said Hall and the owner of a Heights Plaza store spoke to the board about including those areas in the article.
They are already included in the list of locations where beer and wine may be sold.
Powell expects the business owners to offer an amendment to the article.
When asked why the article limits liquor stores to three areas, Powell said, “I think it was the feeling of the Board of Selectmen that those areas were a little bit more commercial in nature.”
Puritz and members of the board have discussed adding their own legislative language — possibly as part of the market owners’ amendment, or possibly separately — to require markets that sell liquor in the town center and Heights Plaza to retain the grocery component of their business.
Hall sees no problem with that. “I don’t have any intention of making it just a full liquor store,” he said.
Powell said he has not decided how to vote on adding new locations, but the grocery requirement would make him “a little more comfortable with it.”
“We’re certainly happy to move the issue forward,” he said. “It’s appropriate to have Town Meeting weigh in on that.”
The town’s attorney is researching whether it would be legal to force markets that want to sell liquor to continue selling groceries, the town administrator said.
Although selectmen approved the article unanimously, the Finance Committee was divided, voting 4-3 in favor.
Members voting in the minority believed in-town liquor stores were unnecessary and could negatively affect the town’s character, according to a statement printed in the warrant.
Westwood Town Administrator Michael Jaillet, who lives in Sharon, declined to comment on the Sharon proposal but said the changes to the alcohol policy in Westwood have “worked out fine” to date.
Wegmans at the stalled Westwood Station development has not yet been built, but the town has approved licenses for beer and wine sales at High Street Market and Roche Bros. Supermarkets and has received an application from Lambert’s Rainbow Fruit.
A second alcohol-related article on the Sharon warrant for Monday would reduce the number of seats a restaurant must have to serve all alcoholic drinks, a move Powell said is intended to help restaurants whose seating is limited by the capacity of septic systems.
The minimum seating would drop from 50 to 18. It would affect three existing businesses.
For the seating article, the Finance Committee voted differently — 4 to 3 against — saying it was unwarranted. The selectmen approved it unanimously.
Town Meeting will have the final say about whether to pursue a home-rule petition.
Another Town Meeting article likely to elicit debate deals with adult entertainment zoning.
Supporters, including the Planning Board, say that because sexually oriented businesses are considered free speech, they cannot be banned, and thus the town should regulate where they can go.
The article would allow such businesses by special permit in a light industrial zone and require they be at least 400 feet away from certain other uses, including schools and religious facilities.