SOUTH KINGSTOWN – A Providence County Superior Court judge denied Village Liquors a Class A liquor license Friday, overturning the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation’s June decisions, granting the license.
Judge Michael Silverstein sided with the South Kingstown Town Council and its Nov. 2011 decision denying the proposed South County Commons wine boutique a liquor license.
“By granting a fifth Class A liquor license the [Department of Business Regulation] raised the number of Class A liquor licenses in the town beyond the limit fixed by the town,” Judge Silverstein ruled.
The court found that the maximum number of liquor licenses available under the liquor ordinance is four, both before and after the town council voted in Nov. 2011 to amend the ordinance to cap the number of liquor licenses in South Kingstown at four, regardless of population.
Steve Alfred, South Kingstown town manager, hailed the court’s decision.
“We always believed that the decision from the state was incorrect and certainly we expected this decision from the court,” Alfred said Monday.
The judge also ruled at the Department of Business Regulation was in violation of state law and cited the 1956 case Beachwood v. Liquor Control Administrator as a precedent, which set the Department of Business Regulation’s right to “limit” the number of liquor licenses in each class, but “that limit shall not exceed the maximum number” set in “respective towns or cities.”
The South Kingstown Town Council’s refused to grant a license to applicant Susan Pagliarini after census data released in April 2011 revealed that South Kingstown’s population increased from 27,921 in 2000 to 30,639 in 2010. The population increase allowed the town to grant a new license. State law allows one liquor store for every 6,000 residents, and Pagliarini quickly made a bid for that supposedly available license.
In Nov. 2011, the town council denied Pagliarini’s request for a new license, despite the fact that she had previously obtained plan approval from the planning board, the zoning board and the Economic Development Committee.
At the same November town council meeting, attorneys for the four current liquor stores, Wakefield Liquors, Sweeney’s Wine and Spirits, Patsy’s Package Store, and Geaber’s Liquors pleaded that the new store would add competition in an already struggling business climate.
The Department of Business Regulation became involved in the debate in December 2011 when Pagliarini petitioned the state Board of Business Regulation to grant Village Liquors a liquor license, the fifth in South Kingstown, after the town council voted unanimously to keep the number of Class A licenses at four in Nov. 2011.
Last December, John Pagliarini, Susan Pagliarini’s husband and attorney, presented a petition to town staff at a preliminary meeting arguing that the council failed to use proper notification procedures and did not operate as the correct body.
He stated that Village Liquors applied for a license to the town’s Board of Licensing Commissioners, which requires 30 days notification rather than the 48 hours notice for town council meetings. Since the town council did not convene as the board of licensing commissioners, Pagliarini argued that the board ignored its role as an agent of the State Liquor Commission and failed to properly conduct its business.
In June, a hearing officer from the Department of Business Regulation ruled in favor of Village Liquors and recommended that the South Kingstown Town Council overturn its denial of a liquor license for the proposed liquor store.
In Hearing Officer Louis A. DeQuattro’s “Decision and Order” on the case he cited the South Kingstown Liquor Rules and Regulations adopted Dec. 14, 1998 amended through Aug. 16, 2010, which states, “The number of licenses for each class shall be authorized as indicated below: Class A-4 (not to exceed one per 6,000 inhabitants).”
DeQuattro then wrote, “The [aforementioned] rule does not set the maximum number of Class A licenses to four, but actually requires the board to make a decision on the merits of [Village Liquor]’s application for a fifth license when the inhabitants of South Kingstown rose above 30,000 on a per capita basis.”
Last July, the town of South Kingstown appealed DeQuattro’s ruling.
In a lawsuit filed July 10, town officials asked a Providence Superior Court judge to decide if Village Liquors has the right to operate a boutique wine and liquor shop in the South County Commons.
According to Michael Ursillo, town solicitor, the town filed a complaint regarding the Department of Business Regulation’s recommendation and the department has 20 days to respond.
“The town’s position is that there are only four Class A licenses and the statute [on Class A liquor licenses] states that only the town council can create a new license, and the town council did not,” Ursillo previously told The Narragansett Times. Therefore, Village Liquors should not have been granted one.”
Judge Silverstein agreed with Ursillo, denying Village Liquors a license “on the grounds that there was no license available.”