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Intent to Expand Liquor Licensing by Westfield Town Council Draws Strong Dissent from Public Interest Groups
By PAUL J. PEYTON
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader
Over the pleas of representatives from the Westfield Municipal Alliance/PANDA (Preventing Alcohol and Narcotics Abuse) and the Parent-Teacher Council (PTC), the Town Council last Wednesday night introduced the newest version of the towns liquor license which would allow more restaurants in town to have bars in their establishments. The ordinance was introduced by a 5-2-1 vote.
Also objecting to the change in the town code is the Reverend Darla Dee Turlington, President of the Westfield/Mountainside Ministerium Associates.
The ordinance involves restricted liquor licenses as opposed to those that are unrestricted or traditional bar licenses. The town approved the conditional license in the 1960s in an effort to attract restaurants to Westfield.
Operators of these establishments say they need a bar area not only to compete with restaurants in town but with establishments out on Route No. 22, as well.
Conditional licenses allow for the service of alcoholic beverages at tables in the food service area but do not allow bars. Lounges were added a number of years ago to allow restaurants to serve beverages to patrons waiting for a table for dinner.
The Jolly Trolley, Towne House, Wyckoffs, and Echo Lake Country Club hold unrestricted licenses. Ken Marcotte, Ferraros, and B.G. Fields hold restricted licenses. Two additional licenses are not currently active (defined as pocketed).
These are held by Raymond Kostyack, the owner of the former Raymonds Restaurant, and Henry W. Kopp who purchased the license of the former Sinclaires seafood restaurant.
Mr. Kopp purchased the license at an auction run by the State Division of Taxation due to back taxes owed by Sinclaires.
The ordinance now before the council first came to light last year at the request of an operator in town who holds one of the restricted liquor licenses (defined as restaurant conditional licenses) in town.
The council was unable to gain enough support to bring the ordinance forward for a final vote due to a lack of support on the governing body.
Lucy Van Iperen of North Chestnut Street, Director of Westfield Municipal Alliance/PANDA, said the group is against the amendment to the liquor ordinance. She said PANDA includes representatives of schools, law enforcement officials, religious organizations, civic groups, and other community organizations.
Ms. Van Ipren said PANDA believes that the town "has a balance of restaurants that provide choices for its residents.
"There are many quality restaurants in town that provide a healthy family atmosphere and a social and professional business environment for their clientele. Our fear is that a loosening of the current restrictions would change this balance and create a potential for higher risk," she told the council.
Under questioning from Fourth Ward Councilman Lawrence A. Goldman, Ms. Van Ipren said the PANDA board includes 24 members.
Third Ward Councilman John J. Walsh asked whether PANDA was against any liberalization of the towns liquor ordinance. Ms. Ipren said PANDA wants the ordinance to stay as it currently reads.
Christine Foley of Jefferson Avenue, corresponding secretary for the Westfield PTC, read a letter to the council announcing the PTCs opposition to the amendment to the liquor ordinance. The PTC is made up of representatives of all of Westfields nine schools.
"Allowing more restaurants in Westfield to have bars where liquor can be consumed without ordering food can only have a negative impact on our town," said Mrs. Foley, noting that approval of the new ordinance would "clearly send the wrong message to our children."
"The dangers from the proposed amendment far outweigh any benefits," she added, noting that the PTC has 45 representatives -- five from each school. This number includes Presidents of all the Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) and Parent-Teacher Organizations (PTOs).
Gordon Specht of Normandy Drive, a resident since 1954, said he believes the town needs to set standards so that the youth "know what our priorities are."
"What kind of signal do the adults of this community send to our youth if Westfield decides its a good idea to double the number of bars in this town?" he asked the council.
He said such a change would send the wrong message to youth in the community. Mr. Specht said he doesnt see the "urgency" or driving force behind the change in adding more bars in restaurants.
Karen Mortenson of Sinclair Place, speaking as a parent, said there is a strong relation between alcohol and crime. She said the change in the liquor ordinance would result in more lawsuits from alcohol-related accidents.
She said added revenue from the restaurant bars would not come back to the town or police department but go in the restaurant operators pocket.
"If we are here to represent the people of Westfield, the downside looks pretty bad -- the upside looks pretty bleak," Ms. Mortenson told the council.
Norma Hockenjos of Summit Avenue, a member of the ministry at the First United Methodist Church, said the provisions to the towns liquor ordinance does nothing to enhance the existing requirement that alcohol must be accompanied by a meal.
Mercedes Okamoto of Boulevard said adding more bars within the restaurant community is a "step in the wrong direction for Westfield." She said the council should try to make the town more "family oriented."
Lynn McCabe of Montauk Drive, the PTC representative for PANDA, said she was "appalled" that the issue of adding more bars in restaurants has even been discussed by the council.
"I dont understand the reasoning except for greed," she said. Mrs. McCabe said she does not know what benefit the addition of these bars will have on the community.
Dr. Theodore K. Schlosberg , Jr. of Scudder Road, Director of the New Jersey Workshop for the Arts, said he believes the issue is whether changing the liquor ordinance is in the best interest of families of Westfield.
"I hope that you will do nothing to jeopardize what was built by the fathers of this town and by those of us who care about the children of this town," he said.
The ordinance was amended several times while under consideration by the Laws and Rules Committee which was chaired in 1996 by Councilman Sullivan.
This year Councilman Goldman, just elected this past November, is chairing the committee which includes Councilman Sullivan.
At last weeks meeting Mr. Goldman said the public has been "misinformed" by information circulating around town.
He emphasized that the ordinance will not increase the number of liquor licenses in town -- that number has been set by the state and has been reached by the town.
Councilman Goldman said the change in the town code would not allow street entrances into the bar/lounge area, would require the same menu and prices be offered to bar patrons as those in the restaurant, discounts on drinks would not be permitted thus eliminating the possibility of "happy hours," and restrictions would be placed on the space for the bar area including the number of bar stools and/or lounge seats.
First Ward Councilwoman Gail S. Vernick, in voting against the ordinance, said the amendment to the town code "would allow eight more restaurants with bars, all within walking distance from each other, in our central business district.
"If this ordinance is passed it is irreversible. Liquor licenses are privately owned, and once the bar is constructed, there is no moving it," she stated.
Councilman Goldman said enforcement of liquor license are on a per operator basis. He said if a particular establishment has a history of not following the ordinance, the council has the option of rejecting the restaurants request for renewal of its license. Renewals for liquor licenses, which cost $2,000 a year, are granted on an annual basis.
Mr. Goldman said the intent of the ordinance is to improve the ambiance of restaurants by enabling those with conditional licenses to have bars.
He said restrictions placed on conditional licenses would ensure Westfield will not develop into a "bar town."
"I think we have taken responsible steps to maintain the tradition in Westfield to categorize licenses which is so unique in this state," he explained.
He said restaurants which do not have liquor licenses but allow patrons to bring their own alcohol is perhaps an even greater problem in town.
First Ward Councilman Norman N. Greco, a member of the Laws and Rules Committee the past two years, questioned why the council is in "such a rush to this.
"Once you do this you change the face of this town forever," he said, noting that the holders of the licenses will likely come back before the council seeking even less restrictions.
He said the additional restaurant bars will end up having a strong economic impact on those establishments with unrestricted licenses.
"I dont think we need more bars in this town," he emphasized.
Mr. Greco said later that he intends to push for a non-binding referendum on the ballot in November.
Mayor Thomas C. Jardim, in voting for the amended ordinance, said he wouldnt support the ordinance if he thought it would harm the character of the town.
Councilman Walsh argued that the law says that moderate alcohol consumption is permitted. He said the amendment to the town code will not add to the abuse of alcohol in Westfield.
He said it is the parents role to teach their children about alcohol consumption and abuse, not the governments. Councilman Walsh said he believes the change may lead to more restaurants coming to town.
According to the ordinance, the maximum number of bar stools allowed would be eight. The maximum number of seats in the lounge including bar stools would be 20 for restaurants of 125 seats or more.
Restaurants of 100 to 124 seats would be allowed to have 16 seats in the bar/lounge with an establishment of 75 to 99 seats allowed total seating in the bar/lounge area of 12 seats.
The total length or bar would be figured by multiplying each bar stool by two, thus creating a maximum of a 16-foot bar. Operators would be required to provide eight square feet for each bar stool and lounge seat. Councilman Goldman said the space restrictions would help prevent the bars from becoming a "gathering place."
Also, the ordinance increases the number of seats in the restaurant area to 75. Currently, restaurants with 25 seats can obtain a liquor license. Restaurant bars would not be allowed to be open when the food service area is closed.
Under the town code, restaurants must stop food service by 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursdays, and 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
The public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for Tuesday, May 6.
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