[JK: This is a guest post by Chris Mathiesen. He served three terms as Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner from January, 2012, to December, 2017.]
The proposal put forth by Commissioner Montagnino to have the City Council endorse the practice of regularly commenting on liquor license renewals and new applications for on-premise sales is not without merit. It is a way of slowly, incrementally achieving the goal of attaining an earlier last call hour. A better solution would be for more responsible regulations to be set City-wide, county-wide or state-wide but that apparently is not possible at this time.
Since November of 1993, the SLA has utilized a 500 Foot Law which applies to establishments that are located within a distance of 500 feet from three other businesses licensed for on-premise alcohol sales. All of the establishments serving alcohol in the very unique Caroline Street-Putnam Street-Maple Avenue area are within 500 feet of at least three other similar businesses. They are all in violation of the 500 Foot Law.
The obvious rationale for the 500 Foot Law is that it becomes much more difficult to oversee and control the licensed businesses if there is an over- concentration of such establishments. Caroline Street has become the prime example in New York State for what can go wrong when there are too many bars with too many intoxicated patrons being served too late in a very focused zone.
In New York State, the standards for new licenses to serve alcohol are more stringent if those businesses violate the 500 Foot Law. The SLA will only issue these licenses if it is determined that it is in the public interest to do so. The considerations include:
- The number, classes and character of other premises not only in the area of the proposed establishment but also in the particular municipality.
- The impact on the existing noise level.
- The history of ABC violations and reported criminal activity at the location.
- Any other factor specified by law or regulation that would be relevant to deciding whether public interest would be served by granting the application.
The 500 Foot Law requires that the SLA consult with the municipality and conduct a hearing to gather facts to determine whether public interest would be served by issuing the license. In situations where there is opposition to an application, applicants may come to an agreement on stipulations concerning the operation of the establishment such as closing hours, live entertainment, etc.
Saratoga Springs has a major role in helping to determine whether an applicant in violation of the 500 Foot Law can get a license to serve alcohol and what conditions might be imposed on that applicant. Protecting the reputation of the City, the level of peace and tranquility afforded neighboring residents and businesses, and public safety would all be important factors for the SLA to consider.
As opposed to new applications, renewals of licenses to serve alcohol for applicants in violation of the 500 Foot Law do not automatically meet the same level of scrutiny or process. However, Commissioner Montagnino’s suggestion that letters be submitted to the SLA requesting an earlier closing hour would have an impact on the regulators. Any history of problems related to establishments due for renewal would be pertinent, including violations of local laws as well as the Alcohol Beverage Control Laws. The SLA does have the authority to impose earlier closing hours and other restrictions on renewals in response to the City’s public safety concerns if they can be substantiated.
I have met with the SLA a number of times. They are acutely aware of the Caroline Street problems and they were an important resource for me when I was Commissioner of Public Safety. I am sure that they will continue to cooperate with Commissioner Montagnino in trying to solve a situation that has only gotten worse.