Community push back over proposed alcohol code changes

“You’re completely blowing Rotary’s charitable fundraising out of the water with this,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said last week about a proposed town code amendment that would require sponsors of public events to carry $2 million liquor liability insurance policies.

The code change also would prohibit anyone under 21 from even attending events where alcohol is served, including the Polish Town Fair, the Country Fair and the Blues Festival, unless they are accompanied and monitored by an adult age 25 or older.

Mr. Walter is a member of the Riverhead Rotary Club, which sells beer at the Country Fair as a fundraiser.

The proposed amendment was drawn up by deputy town attorney Dan McCormick and discussed at last Thursday’s Town Board work session in Town Hall. And the public outcry has grown ever since. Mr. McCormick said the proposed insurance requirements were recommended by the town’s own insurance company.

“Our members are very upset about this,” Burte Harris of the Polish Town Civic Association said in an interview. Her organization holds the annual Polish Town Fair and Festival every August in Riverhead. “Beer sales are a big part of our money and if they do this, the fair is going to go out of business,” she said.

She said the group already needs State Liquor Authority approval to sell alcohol at the festival, as well as county approval of a mass gathering permit.

“We’re not happy and we’re hoping the town will take this and throw it in the garbage,” Ms. Harris said.

The festival is the major fundraiser for the Polish Town Civic Association, which does a number of charitable and beautification projects in Polish Town, she said.

The measure appears to have support of two of the five Town Board members.

Currently, the town has no guidelines except a ban on public consumption of alcohol, which it waives for certain events.

“The impetus for this was the previous unequal treatment of applicants,” Mr. McCormick said. The Town Board under the administration of former Supervisor Phil Cardinale had several discussions on whether waiving the alcohol prohibition for certain events would set precedents for others.

“I don’t think drinking should be a fundraiser,” Councilman John Dunleavy said at last Thursday’s meeting.

“I agree with you,” Councilman George Gabrielsen said. “I’d like to see the total elimination of it on any municipal property.”

“I don’t know why people have to drink beer in the streets to have fun,” Mr. Dunleavy added. “I really don’t understand that. There’s other ways to have fun.”

But Mr. Walter said there were problems with the proposal. “My 18-year-old son can’t come to the fair by himself because he’s not 21 and we might serve beer? That doesn’t work … that has to come out.

“As a member of Rotary who has served beer, I can tell you there are not drunk people walking around,” Mr. Walter added.

Police Chief David Hegermiller said he can’t recall any problems with intoxicated people at town fairs.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio asked if any other towns had similar policies.

Mr. McCormick said he’d have to research that. He said the proposal is based largely on a code from the city of Ottawa, Canada.

The proposed amendment, which was first presented to board members Thursday, includes many other regulations, such as definitions of the “standard drink” and how much alcohol it should contain, requirements that non-alcoholic beverages be sold at “significantly lower” prices than alcoholic beverages, a provision that a two-drink limit be encouraged, and a limit of two drinks being served to one person at any one time. There’s even a requirement that sponsors or employees remain sober during the entire event.

Board members said they needed time to review the entire document.

“I’m going to take my red pen to this,” Mr. Walter said.

The proposed municipal alcohol policy would apply at any events held on town property, any Riverhead Town events anywhere and at events sanctioned by the town that are held on private property.
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