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Easthampton City Council OKs two liquor license requests

Riff’s Joint and Popcorn Noir are one step closer to receiving above-quota liquor licenses after the City Council endorsed their requests Oct. 17. Mayor Michael A. Tautznik and State Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, also supported the requests, which will also need approval from the legislature and the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

The Council voted six in favor, with Councilor Chester A. Ogulewicz Jr. opposing it. Councilor Donald L. Cykowski abstained, stating that the number of above-quota licenses was “getting a little out of control.”

The council has OK’d seven such licenses in the last 12 years, though only two are in use.

“We’re talking about leveling the playing field with some of the neighboring communities with more establishments,” said Councilor Nathaniel P. Ziegler.

Councilor Daniel C. Hagan voted in favor, but said he was worried that if the city did not set a procedure for deciding who can receive above-quota licenses in the future, it could be accused of being unfair.

“I think the city should take a look — in a nonconfrontational setting — at what we want to do going forward,” he said. “Because I think it’s starting to get to the point where we’re going to be hard-pressed, if anybody comes forward that wants an over-quota license, to not issue it.”

Council President Justin P. Cobb said he thinks it’s up to the city’s Licensing Board to come up with a defined process.

Ogulewicz said he would oppose any such license request because he thinks it sends the wrong message to young people. With more licensed establishments, he said, “the chance for them to get served mistakenly increases a lot.”

The council also unanimously approved a change to the city’s zoning ordinance that will allow people with nonconforming homes to make conforming changes to them with the approval of the building inspector.

City Planner Jessica Allan said that current zoning regulations requires owners of nonconforming homes wishing to make any changes to apply for a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals for a fee of $150, plus another $150 for the required legal advertisements.

Tautznik said such homeowners should not have to “jump through hoops” if their plans to build a deck or other addition do not violate zoning.

Cobb said he has received many “angry phone calls” from residents annoyed about the extra time and money they are required to spend, and Cykowski said the change is “way past due.”

Cultural district meeting

Easthampton City Arts Plus is holding a community meeting Nov. 1 for residents to learn more about the proposed cultural district in the downtown, and how they can be a part of it.

The meeting takes place in the Municipal Building at 50 Payson Ave. at 4:30 p.m.

With the leadership of the arts committee, the city is applying for a cultural district designation from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The City Council approved and issued a resolution supporting the application on Oct. 3.

A cultural district, according to the state Cultural Council, should be a “walkable” area that serves as a center of cultural, artistic and economic activity in the city. The proposed district will include parts of Main, Union, Holyoke and Railroad streets and Payson Avenue, as well as all of Cottage Street.

The city is looking for “community partners” to sign up to determine the direction of the district. The city and partners will create a five-year plan, including details about how the district will be marketed and if it will be expanded.

For more information, visit www.easthamptoncityarts.com or visit (413) 527-8278.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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