With Selectman Jeff Amberson absent, Northborough selectmen deadlocked Monday night over transferring Reliant Beer and Wine Inc.'s wine and malt package store license transfer to a businessman planning to sell a small amount of pipes and paraphernalia that could be used for smoking marijuana.
Selectmen voted twice -- first regarding denying the request, then regarding approving it. Each vote ended 2-2, with Chairman Leslie Rutan and Vice Chairman opposing the transfer. and Selectmen William Pantazis and Aaron Hutchins supporting it with conditions.
Attorney Michael O'Neil, representing applicant Kabir Saheb Inc., owned by Jack Patel and his wife, wasn't willing to continue the public hearing until the next selectmen's meeting, when a full board could be present.
"The applicant is not willing to continue the matter at this point," said O'Neil said.
"If the motion doesn't pass, it's effectively a denial."
Town Administrator John Coderre said O'Neil's client has the right to appeal the board's decision to the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.
The Patels want to open the One Stop Beer Wine and Cigar store at 293 West Main St., where a fire in July 2012 is suspected to have started in a back storage room, created smoke that caused significant damage.
Selectmen opened their public hearing on the license transfer request two weeks ago.
At that time, Northborough Police Detective Sgt. Brian Griffin said in talking with Jack Patel, "Mr. Patel did admit he was planning to sell a small percentage of marijuana pipes in the store."
Police, and some selectmen, expressed concern about this. Selectmen continued their hearing until Monday night to give Coderre and town counsel time to discuss the matter with O'Neil.
O'Neil said Monday night that Northborough Police are concerned about glass pipes proposed for sale in the shop, "labelled for tobacco use only in a small display in the rear of the store."
Pantazis said it was "up to the Northborough Police Department" to decide if selling the pipes violates state law.
Coderre said town counsel has advised selectmen of two options: to approve the license transfer "with qualifying language putting the applicant on notice that these pipes and paraphernalia shall be monitored by the police department, and that any violations of Mass. General Law will be investigated and pursued by the ttown and the police department"; or deny the license, and specifically cite Patel's comments to Griffin.
Police Chief Mark Leahy said that "you begin to wonder what's more important whether it's the alcohol license or the ability to sell pipes. Because apparently, the applicant has more than just a passing interest in having this for sale in this small case in the back of his store, and is apparently willing to even potentially jeopardize the issuance of the license."
Police are watching a similar case in Framingham to "see what guidance we get from the courts," Leahy said.