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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Nashua board hesitant to weigh in on proposal to restrict alcohol sales near schools

NASHUA – The Board of Education on Monday night held off on a discussion regarding a proposed city ordinance about alcohol served near schools, after some members questioned whether the board should weigh in at all.

“I’m not sure I would recommend a further discussion,” said board member Steven Haas. “From what I read in the newspaper, it seems like there is some contentiousness over the intent of the ordinance. It’s not one that I think I want to be a part of.” ...

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NASHUA – The Board of Education on Monday night held off on a discussion regarding a proposed city ordinance about alcohol served near schools, after some members questioned whether the board should weigh in at all.

“I’m not sure I would recommend a further discussion,” said board member Steven Haas. “From what I read in the newspaper, it seems like there is some contentiousness over the intent of the ordinance. It’s not one that I think I want to be a part of.”

The ordinance, first proposed last month, would ban new establishments from serving alcohol within 500 feet of a school building. The legislation was written by Lori Wilshire and later signed onto by Alderma-at-Large Mark Cookson and Ward 3 Alderman Diane Sheehan, who attended Monday’s meeting. Cookson said last week that he would remove his name from the list of co-sponsors as soon as possible.

The Board of Aldermen sent a letter to the Board of Education last week, requesting they weigh in on the proposed ordinance. The city police department and planning board also were asked to weigh in, Sheehan said.

But while board members said they were grateful for the inquiry, many said the placement of establishments not on school property is for city and economic development officials – not school officials – to decide.

Still, the board did vote to send a letter back to city officials including comments from any board members interested in contributing feedback.

“I don’t believe that the Board of Education should be involved in the legislation before the Board of Aldermen,” said board member William Mosher. “I don’t think that it’s any of our business … The only thing we can do is give them nine different opinions.”

The proposed ordinance has sparked debate in the last two weeks among city officials and residents.

Wilshire told The Telegraph last week that the proposal was due, at least in part, to a desire by the Veterans of Foreign Wars to move to the former Crown Hill Fire Station, which abuts Dr. Norman W. Crisp Elementary School on Arlington Street.

“I expressed my concerns right away about a liquor license, not the VFW or any particular organization, but anyone having a liquor license that close to schools,” she said last week. “End of story. That’s all. … It’s protecting school kids from having a liquor license in their front yard and literally, that building is on the same lot as the school.”

While the proposed ordinance aims to protect students in the city from having alcohol served nearby. But all existing establishments would be grandfathered in if this ordinance were to pass, specifically exempting city-owned Holman Stadium, located next to Amherst Street School.

Monday night, most board members had more questions than suggestions for aldermen.

Board President Bob Hallowell called the proposal “draconian,” and said there are other ways the city could limit alcohol consumption near schools, such as putting a time restriction on when the establishments could serve alcohol.

Hallowell said the school board has never before been asked to weigh in on a policy by aldermen during his time on the board, and said he was not sure they should make a recommendation now.

Board member Tom Vaughn said he likely would not feel comfortable with a bar opening next to a school but agreed with other board members who said that while the ordinance could impact the environment of a city school, it also would impact many things the school board does not oversee.

“I don’t really want to give an opinion either way,” said board member Kim Muise. “We sit around a table, making education decisions for our children. This brings in far greater economic issues, zoning issues, planning issues. I don’t see the relevance of this coming to the board.”

The board’s letter to aldermen, including any feedback from board members interested in contributing, will be sent before the June 18 public hearing scheduled on the proposal.

Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Curtis on Twitter (@Telegraph_DC).