In a town where alcohol has long lubricated the local economy, and where the nightlife is often just getting started at 10 p.m., Stowe restaurant and bar owners have roundly rejected a proposal by the town to place a cutoff time on outdoor drinking.

The Stowe Selectboard, citing noise complaints related to outdoor consumption of alcohol, unveiled a proposed new ordinance last week that could give the town more control in granting permits for outdoor dining and drinking. Since state law allows bars and restaurants to serve alcohol until 2 a.m., towns would need to either include cutoff times when issuing a zoning permit or enact blanket rules.

After pushback from several business owners, the board decided to scrap the ordinance for now, but urged them and residents who live nearby to be good neighbors.

“I guess, if we can all get together, if someone gives you a call and says, ‘Hey, you know, you’re really loud tonight,’ or, in reasonableness as a community, you say, ‘OK, I hear you, I’ll turn the music down,’ then that’s where we start,” selectboard chair Billy Adams said.

The proposed ordinance — which would have prohibited “the outside consumption of alcohol on its licensed premises in the town after 10 p.m.” — was not well-received by bar and restaurant owners. Many of them said being able to seat people outside has been critical to their survival during the pandemic.

“For a lot of us, our outdoor spaces have saved our businesses. A lot of us have spent money enclosing our outdoor spaces, heating our outdoor spaces, making them more comfortable for patrons year-round,” said Nate Freund, owner of three restaurants in Stowe. “Lots of people don’t want to be crowded inside, for obvious reasons. Our patio is a tool that we use to keep people distanced and to keep our employees safe and keep the patrons safe.”

Others said it would have something of a buzzkill effect on tourists, the primary contributors to Stowe’s economy.

“We are having an experience,” Jennifer Martin, co-owner of Plate, said. “It can sometimes take up to two hours, sometimes three, to enjoy yourself.”

Dan Snyder of Stowe Cider added that it can take up to two hours just to get a seat during the busiest times of the summer.

Even selectboard members Lisa Hagerty and Jo Sabel Courtney weighed in on shutting things down at 10 p.m.

“Ten is awfully early,” Hagerty said.

“Especially in the summertime,” Courtney added.

Mark Frier, owner of The Bench, pointed out that restaurant workers are often getting off work at 10 and enjoy being able to wind down outside after a hard shift.

Twice this year, the town has talked about noise complaints at the governmental level. Over the summer, residents who complained about the outdoor music at Stowe Cider were able to convince the town development review board to limit the cidery’s outdoor permit, even though many questioned the critics’ actual proximity to the place.

In September, a village couple who live across the street from Lower Bar — formerly known as Tap 25 — complained that the town zoning office allowed Lower Bar to extend its outdoor consumption hours to midnight, saying the area was like an amphitheater, allowing the couple to hear “so many conversations I can’t unhear.”

Jen Kimmich, co-owner of the Alchemist, echoed Adams’s concerns about equity. It would be far easier for police to enforce violations in the village or closer to it than it would be for them to go and patrol more far-flung places like Topnotch or Stowe Mountain Lodge.

Aaron Martin, co-owner of Plate, added, “For those of us right in the eye of the village, it really becomes an unfair sentence.”

The second clause in the now-scrapped ordinance aimed to keep businesses permitted to serve drinks outside neighborly. It said no permit holder can “engage in or permit any conduct that constitutes a public nuisance or that unreasonably interferes with the peaceful enjoyment of properties located proximate to the permitted or licensed premises.”

John Kimmich, co-owner of The Alchemist brewery, said that conflates different topics.

“A major thing that’s going on here is the crossing of two different issues. There’s an issue of drinking outside and then there’s an issue of noise,” Kimmich said. “I do not think that you can legitimately lump these two things together. Because as everybody knows, it doesn’t necessarily take alcohol to have people loud outside at night.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexual language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be proactive. Use the "Report" link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.