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Westfield Town Council Keeps Hearing Open On Liquor Law
DISCUSSION TO RESUME MAY 20
By PAUL J. PEYTON
Faced with continued opposition along with new questions regarding a proposal to change the towns liquor ordinance to allow more restaurants to have bars, the Town Council opted Tuesday night to keep the public hearing open while officials look into a number of new concerns addressed by citizens.
The change in the ordinance would lessen restrictions on restaurants with conditional liquor licenses, but would not increase the number of liquor licenses in town which is set by statute and has been exhausted by the town.
While those council members in support of the change say the ordinance will help restaurant business in Westfield and thus the town as a whole, council opponents believe bars, whether restrictive or not, will promote social drinking and has the potential to change the family image of Westfield.
Among the new questions addressed at the meeting are the potential impact more social drinking in Westfield might have on increased drunk driving in town and what positives, if any, an amendment to the existing town code would bring to town residents.
The council has been studying the issue of its liquor ordinance since last June as it applies to the six restrictive restaurant liquor licenses in town. Under state law the town has been permitted to have 10 liquor licenses.
Of those 10, four are defined as unrestrictive, meaning they could be used to operate solely as bars. The four establishments which have them, though, have chosen to offer food service, as well. Bar licenses are held by the Jolly Trolley, Wyckoffs, the Towne House Restaurant, and the Echo Lake Country Club.
Conditional licenses are held by Ken Marcotte, Ferraros, and B.G. Fields. Two licenses are pocketed, defined as an inactive license, and are held by Raymond Kostyack, the former owner of Raymonds restaurant, and Henry W. Kopp, who owns the license formerly held by the former Sinclaires seafood restaurant.
La Petite Rose holds the sole hotel conditional license in town. That license will not be impacted by the ordinance.
Conditional restaurant licenses currently restrict against bars although a lounge area, where patrons can sit and be served alcoholic beverages while waiting for a table in the restaurant, is permitted.
The proposal before the council would allow holders of conditional licenses to add a bar area providing they follow the restrictions imposed in the license. These include:
No outside entrance to the bar/lounge is permitted with such an entrance required to be within the restaurant itself.
The bar and lounge area must be separated by partitions or dividers.
Food served at the bar or lounge must reflect the same prices as that in the restaurant.
Drinks must be priced the same as those beverages sold in the restaurant.
Seating in the bar/lounge is reflective of total restaurant seating with a maximum of 20 seats in the bar/lounge area permitted.
Of this amount no more than eight bar stools are allowed. The size of bar would be determined by multiplying two by each bar stool for a maximum of a 16-foot-long bar.
Seating capacity would be determined by multiplying each lounge seat/bar stool by eight square feet and adding another 10 percent to the figure.
Bar/lounge areas must be closed when the kitchen is not in operation.
No alcoholic beverages may be served later than 10 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday or 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Restaurants must have a minimum of 75 seats to operate a bar and lounge.
During Tuesdays meeting Ken Marcotte, the co-owner of the restaurant on Elm Street bearing his name, said he wants to add a bar in order to better serve his clientele.
Although he indicated the change in his liquor license would help increase his business by 10 percent, he said he does not expect his liquor sales to significantly increase. On the contrary, he said the bar would probably actually increase his overall restaurant business.
He said by providing a small bar area he would be able to "take my business in a slightly different direction." Mr. Marcotte said the restrictions on conditional licenses would prevent Westfield from ever becoming a bar town.
Mr. Marcotte, an eight-year Westfield resident, noted that one of the fears of opponents of the ordinance appears to be the possibility of someone else coming to town and opening an establishment which might harm the business district.
Mr. Marcotte emphasized that the town has "total control" in the approval of liquor license transfers.
Upon introduction of the ordinance two weeks ago, Third Ward Councilman Lawrence A. Goldman explained that the council could also choose not to renew a license if the establishment is not following liquor laws. All liquor licenses in town come up for approval annually at a fee of $2,000 each.
When Mr. Marcotte cited several restaurants on Route No. 22 which have bars, First Ward Councilwoman Gail S. Vernick questioned whether he was proposing that type of atmosphere in Westfield.
Mr. Marcotte explained that he wants to see more family restaurants in town. He noted that many families often go to the Jolly Trolley for dinner. He added that parents must educate their kids on the dangers of alcohol.
Maureen Regan of Hort Street said she did not feel the addition of bars within restaurants would increase childrens awareness of liquor use.
Terry Tainow of Summit Avenue said when she goes out with business associates or for family gatherings, she often goes to other towns which have restaurants which offer "good ambiance and food." Ms. Tainow said she will often meet people in a bar area to socialize before eating dinner.
She said the change in the town code will be a positive one for restaurants in town while not having any adverse impact on the town.
"I feel what is good for the restaurant business is good for the town," she told the council, stating that the addition of restrictive bars in restaurants would be an "asset" to the town.
Lucy Van Iperen of North Chestnut Street, who serves as Director of the Municipal Alliance/Preventing Alcohol, Narcotic and Drug Abuse (PANDA), said the organization remains opposed to a change in the towns liquor ordinance.
The groups opposition is focused on how the change might seem to promote "drinking as a social activity."
Karen E. Mortenson of Sinclair Place questioned whether the real motive of Mr. Marcotte was to have a bar, since he did not add a lounge area as currently allowed. Mr. Marcotte said he has a seating area where people can wait for a table.
Town Attorney Charles H. Brandt noted the town code was changed a decade ago to allow the addition of lounges for patrons to have a drink while waiting for a table.
Ms. Mortenson asked if smoking would be allowed in the bar areas and, if so, what arrangements would be made to assure smoke would not enter the food service area.
Councilman Goldman, who chairs the Laws and Rules Committee which worked on the ordinance, said smoking was not considered during discussions. The council, however, agreed to look into this matter further.
Under questioning from Mayor Thomas C. Jardim, Ms. Mortenson indicated that to her, "a lounge does not have the same impact as a bar" in that the former is more conducive to people eating.
Under questioning from the public, Councilman Goldman said the council proposed the ordinance at the request of persons in charge of attracting new businesses to town who said the loosening of restrictions on conditional licenses would help attract more restaurants in town and more pedestrian traffic in the central business district. Some restaurant owners also requested the change.
Another resident questioned how the ordinance will help promote business in the downtown since restaurants are open 30 hours during the week when most businesses are closed.
Lynne McCabe of Montauk Drive asked the council to slow down the hearing process which, she said, the council appears to want to approve in a hurry.
Denise Ricci of Trails End Court said she was "shocked" that Police Chief Anthony J. Scutti had not been asked to comment on the impact "six more bars" in Westfield might have on drunk driving incidents.
"Once you do this it is done," she said.
First Ward Councilman Norman N. Greco, an opponent of the liquor ordinance change, questioned his fellow council members, "Why are we doing this?"
"The effects of this will long outlive this council," he said.
Also opposing the ordinance was the Reverend Darla Dee Turlington of the First Baptist Church, who heads the Westfield/Mountainside Ministerium Associates, who noted while the councils job is not to stop or to control drinking, the less restrictive liquor license would increase drinking "some how, some way."
The Reverend Leon E. Randall, Pastor of St. Lukes African Methodist Episcopal Church, said approval of the ordinance would seem to "contradict" the councils approval of a resolution earlier this year in observance of Alcohol and Drug Awareness Week.
Third Ward Councilman Neil F. Sullivan, Jr., said the liquor ordinance hearing is becoming a very "divisive" situation. He said he was concerned about continuing the hearing too long for fear of its impact on the community.
The other Third Ward council representative, John J. Walsh, said, in supporting the motion not to close the hearing, that he did not want it to appear that the council was trying to rush a decision through.
First Ward Councilwoman Gail S. Vernick said she doubts the public will be swayed to support the ordinance.
Fourth Ward Councilman Donnell Carr said more time for public comment should help "calm down the emotions" of those interested in the outcome of the ordinance.
The hearing will resume on Tuesday, May 20, at 8 p.m.
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