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Burlington City Council Holds Special Session To Consider COVID Emergency Order

Burlington street sign
Pat Bradley/WAMC
A street sign in Burlington

The Burlington City Council met for a  special session today to consider an emergency measure put forth by the mayor to regulate the size of gatherings and the hours that liquor can be sold in the city.  The new restrictions are being considered as colleges in the city are welcoming students back to campus.
When Vermont Governor Phil Scott extended the state of emergency last Friday he also gave communities, especially college towns, greater authority to lower limits on gathering sizes and limit the hours for alcohol sales.  Mayor Miro Weinberger spoke at the special Burlington City Council meeting Thursday.  “We are attempting on September 8th to reopen public schools to in-person learning and the colleges, UVM and Champlain College, Burlington’s two colleges are attempting to open substantial in-person learning as well. Both of those activities involve new risks that we have not experienced in this community since the pandemic began. And we have seen this week major colleges shut down after attempting to reopen because virus levels spike and we are trying to avoid that here.”

A number of businesses were concerned about the proposed reductions in the hours that alcohol can be sold. The original proposal mandated that the sale of any spirit-based beverages end at 10 p.m.  Burlington Business Association Director Kelly Devine said that could make business harder for COVID-recovering restaurants.  “This in some way feels like they’re being punished because of the potential actions of others and most of our restaurants are really struggling just to make ends meet. So basically cutting back their hours I think will have some unintended consequences.”

Several of those who commented, including Debra Miller, don’t believe regulations will prevent students from partying or gathering in large groups.  “Closing the bars at 10 p.m. will only force the students into partying into tightly closed apartments. Because they are going to party no matter what happens with the bars. It would be better for them to be in the bars where things are sanitized, people are distanced. And you know I’ve overheard the students talking. They’re like, how do they think they’re going to stop us from socializing?”

City councilors considered several amendments including one offered by Ward 3 Progressive Brian Pine to remove all the clauses pertaining to alcohol sales hours.  “How do we know that by doing this we’re not really just pushing people into more frequent larger house parties where the COVID spread is at a higher risk? Bars are controlled and regulated environments and we can have enforcement take place in bars. We can’t do enforcement in people’s homes nearly as easily as in bars. So I am not ready to support that part of the measure.”

While Pine’s amendment to remove the clauses failed, a proposal by Ward 4 Democrat Sarah Carpenter to push last call back to 11 p.m. and revisit the issue during their September 14th meeting passed.  “Going to 11 for three weeks will give us enough time to monitor it. It’ll give us the time to deal with the house party patrols. And then we can look at it on the 14th.”

The City Council approved the emergency order as amended. The second amendment removed a clause that would have allowed the mayor to alter the hours of alcohol service in response to the COVID-19 emergency without approval from the council.


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