Obscure 1967 local referendum puts the brakes on effort to sell beer in The Olney Place taproom

UPDATE: This version clarifies that it was not Seth Olney who said he didn't plan to install beer taps in the addition until after construction began. That claim has been attributed to his father, Nate, according to a letter circulated by other town officials. 

Serving craft brews with a twist might be uncommon elsewhere, but it looks like it could become de rigueur in Barrington. That is if it’s legal to sell alcohol for on-premise consumption at all in the town.

Yes, there’s a new twist in the situation between The Olney Place, the Town of Barrington and the New York State Liquor Authority. Where things are headed next is a little frothy, with people on both sides of the local issue sounding optimistic, while state authorities are apologizing for an oversight, and offering to help clear things up.

In the meantime, Barrington voters may be asked to chime in on the issue of alcohol sales in the township when they go to cast ballots Nov. 7.

There are at least two tracks of this story, but at stake is whether The Olney Place owner Seth Olney will be permitted to serve beer in a room that was added to the market and deli he has owned on East Lake Road since 2006.

Yates County Supreme Court Justice Dennis Bender ruled in May that the town cannot prohibit Olney from serving beer from taps in the addition. However, he still must obtain permission from the New York State Liquor Authority to expand alcohol service into the addition. The town has notified Olney that it is appealing Bender’s decision. Town officials maintain that Olney misrepresented the planned use of the addition when he applied for town permits in 2013. Olney's father, Nate, Deputy Supervisor for the town, says his son didn’t decide to install beer taps in the 30 x 20 ft. room until after construction started, according to a document circulated by town officials.

Before 2013, Olney’s Eating Place Beer License, which is still active, permitted the sale of beer for consumption on site in the market and on the lawn south of the store.

But since the addition was opened in 2014, a few neighbors have complained to town officials about noise, trespassing, and rude behavior by Olney Place patrons. Their complaints led to a decision by the town’s zoning board of appeals to annually review the Special Use Permit for the addition and a small deck.

A cascade of lawsuits, complaints, and clashes between Olney supporters, town officials, and neighbors has driven a wedge in a small town where families have lived side-by-side for generations.

Olney and his attorney, Jessica Bryant, have been to Buffalo and Manhattan chasing approval for the SLA license alteration required to legally serve alcohol in the addition, only to learn that a 1967 referendum by Barrington voters limits the sale of alcohol in the town.

How did that happen?

During the general election in 1967, town voters approved two options to the state Alcohol Beverage Control Law. The first option approved the sale of alcohol for consumption off-site. The second option approved the sale of alcohol in hotels. So, Barrington is partially dry, according to the State Liquor Authority.

The 1967 option, discovered by the SLA counsel’s office, was not on file in the Barrington Town records, according to Town Clerk Joy Perry.

Although Barrington is on a 2012 listing of dry towns and partially dry towns in New York State, SLA officials used the Olney Place’s mailing address — Penn Yan — for reference when considering his original application to serve beer for consumption in his store and deli.

During the hearing before the State Liquor Authority Board Aug. 16, Bryant, who had learned of the 1967 referendum just days before, asked for a provisional granting of the license while a decision is finalized.

Christopher Riano, the SLA counsel, said he will work with Bryant and Olney to find some kind of resolution to a situation that was an oversight by all parties.

It’s likely that Bryant and Olney will seek the addition of a local referendum on the Nov. 7 general election ballot, as recommended by SLA Board Chairman Vincent Bradley.

To do so, they must secure at least 88 Barrington voter signatures and submit the petitions to the Yates County Board of Elections by Sept. 1. But first, they must find out what language for a referendum would be acceptable to the SLA.

The options to the law have changed since 1967, and other laws, in particular, the Farm Winery Act, have been adopted in relation to alcohol sales. The current options that can be voted upon, according to the SLA website, are:

• Tavern Alcoholic Beverage

• Restaurant Alcoholic Beverage

• Year-Round Hotel Alcoholic Beverage

• Summer Hotel Alcoholic Beverage

• Retail Package Liquor or Wine Store

• Off-premises Beer and Wine Cooler

• Baseball Park, Racetrack, Athletic Field, or Stadium License

Bradley, confirming that Olney’s application was denied at this time, added, “I don’t believe there was any intent to mislead us. We won’t grant temporary approval, but we’ll bend over backwards to help clear this up for the alteration.”

Bradley said Olney can continue to use the addition, but he can’t serve beer in it.

Bryant raised questions about applying the law and option to wineries and distilleries in the town where alcoholic beverages are sold for both on and off-site consumption. But those businesses are licensed under the New York Farm Winery Act, which permits sales for on or off site consumption.