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Council Set to Introduce Redrafted Liquor Law

Specially Written for The Westfield Leader

Nearly four months after last year’s Town Council decided not to move ahead with the town’s liquor license ordinance as it applies to bars in restaurants, the governing body is set to introduce a redrafted ordinance this Wednesday night, April 23.

The ordinance addresses those establishments which hold what is defined as a "conditional restaurant license." These licenses currently do not provide for a bar area. All alcohol must be sold at tables in either the lounge or in the food service areas.

The ordinance includes specifications regarding the number of seats in a bar/lounge area. The maximum number of stools at a bar and/or seats in the lounge would be 20 for restaurants of 125 seats or more.

Dining establishments with 75 to 99 seats in their restaurant area would be able to have a combination of 12 seats/bar stools, with restaurants with 100 to 124 seats, 16 lounge seats and/or bar stools would be allowed.

Under the current town code, only restaurants with full bar licenses are permitted to havw bars. Currently, there are four active full bar licenses. These are held by the Jolly Trolley, Wyckoff’s, The Towne House, and the Echo Lake Country Club.

Conditional licenses are held by Ken Marcotte, Ferraro’s, and B.G. Fields. In addition, two of these licenses are pocketed (not active at that time) by the owner of the former Raymond’s restaurant, Raymond Kostyack; and Henry W. Kopp who purchased the license held by the former Sinclaire’s seafood restaurant. La Petite Rose holds the only hotel conditional license in town.

At least two members of the council continued to express their disapproval of an amendment to the town’s liquor license clause. Both First Ward Council members, Norman N. Greco and Gail S. Vernick, stated that in essence the change would increase the number of bars in town by five (including the pocketed licenses).

Fourth Ward Councilman Donnell Carr also said he has some concerns as to how residents might react to the change in the ordinance. Although he said the wording itself seems to be in order but he still has some personal concerns about the change.

PANDA (Preventing Alcohol, Narcotic and Drug Abuse) has also opposed any change in the existing liquor ordinance. The Westfield/Mountainside Ministerium Associates opposed the ordinance last year. Fourth Ward Councilman and Chairman of the Laws and Rules Committee Lawrence A. Goldman said he has advised the clergy of the most recent changes. He emphasized that the number of liquor licenses within the municipality would not be increased by the change.

Mrs. Vernick said, currently, the conditional licenses require that all alcohol beverages are accompanied with the consumption of food.

"This (the ordinance) is going to change the concept we now have in Westfield," she stated.

Councilman Greco objected to the characterization by Mr. Goldman that the ordinance would "level the playing field" with regard to the competition of the holders of restaurant liquor licenses.

He said it would actually be unfair to the three holders of full bar licensees who paid in excess of $150,000 for those licenses. He said the new law would decrease the value of the licenses. Third Ward Councilman Neil F. Sullivan, Jr. said the intent was never to create equal competition since this would create an increase in bars such as that at the Jolley Trolley.

Third Ward Councilman John J. Walsh indicated that he did not think the issue was over the worth of the licenses. He said the ordinance may actually help the sale of two pocketed licenses since their worth would now increase.

All of these establishments hold plenary retail consumption licenses which are renewed annually by the Town Council at $2,000.

The revised ordinance, as explained Tuesday night by Councilman Goldman, would reduce the space in the bar/lounge area to avoid standing crowds which are common at bars. Also, the hours for closing for the bars is spelled out in the new ordinance.

Only the full menu as offered in the restaurant could be given to patrons in the lounge/bar area. He said this also would help cut down the possibility of crowds looking for a bar type menu.

Councilman Goldman noted that a provision has been added which limits the bar itself not to exceed two feet multiplied by the number of bar stools. The maximum stools permitted will be eight.

The actual area provided in the bar and/or lounge area may not vary, according to the ordinance, by more than 10 percent. This area does not include the bar structure itself or what is defined as the "back bar."

Councilman Goldman noted that the ordinance specifies that the bar areas must close when the food service end of the restaurants shuts down for the evening. Restaurants must close by 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Councilman Sullivan, who worked on the ordinance last year when he was Laws and Rules Chairman, said the idea of the ordinance is not to allow the bar area to become a "focal" part of the establishment itself.

"I think this gets as close to our objective as possible," he said in support of the ordinance.

Councilman Greco suggested that the issue be put before the voters as a referendum.

The council agreed to put the item on next Wednesday’s agenda, indicating they will wait to see the response from the public.

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