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Change to Town’s Liquor Law Regarding Restaurant Bars Is Withdrawn by Democrats


Specially Written for The Westfield Leader

The long-debated issue on whether to amend the town’s restaurant liquor ordinance to allow more restaurants to add patron bars ended Tuesday night when the ordinance was withdrawn by the Democrats.

The ordinance before the council would have amended the town code to allow restaurants with conditional licenses to add a bar, although with a number of restrictions with regard to bar stools, lounge seating and spacing.

Currently, there are three active conditional licenses and two licenses which are pocketed or non-active. There are four unrestrictive bar licenses currently being utilized in Westfield.

Last week Republicans Norman N. Greco and Gail S. Vernick, First Ward representatives; James J. Gruba, Second Ward, and Third Ward Councilman Neil F. Sullivan, Jr., attended an impromptu press briefing, which was set up by Mrs. Vernick, at the Elm Street offices of The Westfield Leader to announce that they were going to vote against the amendment.

The change in vote left the Democrats at least one and probably two votes short of passing the ordinance. Three of the four Democrats, including Mayor Thomas C. Jardim, supported the ordinance, with one council member abstaining on the matter.

Following the briefing they released a brief statement, prepared by Mr. Sullivan with consent from his colleagues, announcing their decision not to support the amended liquor law.

The announcement boiled down to a change in votes by Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Gruba, both of whom had supported the introduction of the redrafted ordinance several weeks ago. Only Mr. Greco and Mrs. Vernick have consistently voted against the ordinance.

After announcing the council’s decision, Mayor Jardim read a brief statement in which he accused Republicans of playing partisan politics by holding a press briefing at The Westfield Leader just hours before the council was to hear from Police Chief Anthony J. Scutti on the matter.

Mayor Jardim, referring to the briefing which was attended by four of the five Republicans on the council, stated that perhaps the Republicans were more interested in "politics than policy." He noted that the issue had been before the council for the past two years.

"There was a consensus on this council and the council of a year ago that portions of the restaurant conditional license and conditions of the Westfield town code were regulatory relics of decades ago," he said, explaining why there was support to update the ordinance.

He noted the ordinance was worked on by members of both political parties: last year by Councilman Sullivan, as last year’s Laws and Rules Committee Chairman, and this year by both Mr. Sullivan and new committee Chairman and Democratic Fourth Ward Councilman, Lawrence A. Goldman.

Mayor Jardim said the ordinance was "carefully crafted" by Councilmen Goldman and Sullivan to "balance the key concerns and interests" of council members.

The Mayor said the hour-long discussion, which included information provided by Chief Scutti, Town Administrator Edward A. Gottko and Assistant Town Administrator Bernie Heeny, was actually for naught as the vote on the matter had already been decided with the Republicans’ announcement prior to the meeting.

"Every member of this body has the right to change his or her mind when voting. But to do so in the manner as occurred here; to waste time in discussing a matter for which there was not majority support, was disrespectful to the remaining council members, and discourteous to the Chief of Police, Town Administrator and the Assistant Town Administrator," Mayor Jardim said in his statement.

Mayor Jardim said he hopes he can continue to maintain a "level of respect" for his colleagues on the council "regardless of party affiliation" in the future, noting that "respect is a two-way street." He ended his statement by saying, "Let’s move on."

Following the meeting, Councilman Sullivan had his own brief statement for the press. He said he told the Mayor and council of his decision to pull his support of the ordinance after hearing the growing opposition among members of the Westfield/Mountainside Ministerium, PANDA (Preventing Alcohol, Narcotic and Drug Abuse) and the Parent-Teacher Council both at council meetings and to him personally.

He said after receiving this community input he and his colleagues decided not to support the proposed amendment to the liquor ordinance, "rather than spend countless more hours on an issue that divides us. Let’s devote our energies to important goals which will unite our community.

"It is time that we as a community stop defining ourselves by our differences and start defining ourselves by our common community interests," he said.

Councilman Greco said he believes "it is important that we follow the will of the people and that we keep an ever vigilant eye on this issue."

Mrs. Vernick expressed a concern that the matter could surface next year if the majority on the council, which has always been Republican in town, shifts to the Democrats next year. She questioned why the Democrats withdrew rather than calling for a roll call vote on the ordinance.

Mayor Jardim, however, said the ordinance "is now gone -- so, essentially, the proposed ordinance has been defeated."

The Mayor said, in response to Mrs. Vernick’s concerns on withdrawing the ordinance rather than putting it up for a vote, that "the reality is there are not enough votes" to pass the ordinance. He said he would not be in favor of bringing a new ordinance back to the table in the "foreseeable future." He said withdrawing an ordinance has the same impact as voting it down.

He said Councilman Greco’s proposal for a non-binding referendum probably would have had a better chance of passing if voters were given a "clear understanding of the issue." He said, however, he wants the discussion to end so the council can move on with other important business.

In other business, it was announced that Councilman Sullivan has resigned as the council representative on the Westfield Downtown Corporation (WDC), the governing body for the town’s Special Improvement District (SID). He will be replaced by Councilman Goldman.

Also named to the WDC was David Judd to fill a resident seat. He replaces Jennifer Sutman, who resigned upon her move to California. Represented on the SID board are merchants, downtown property owners and residents.

A resident of Westfield for 16 years, Mr. Judd served on the Parking Task Force created in 1994 by former Mayor Garland C. "Bud" Boothe, Jr. He received compliments on his appointment from members of both parties.

At the start of the meeting, a hearing was held on the renewal of the town’s cablevision application as filed by Comcast. The council is expected to start negotiations on a new contract next week, officials said.

During a presentation before the council, Comcast Director of Public and Government Relations, Robert Smith, said Comcast is in the final stages of a project which will provide additional benefits to subscribers by providing increased programming and high-speed Internet access. He said subscribers will receive better signal quality with a reduction of power outages due to improved technology.

Resident Robert Falcone of Fairacres Avenue said he would like to see more live "original points" to broadcast programs over TV 36, Westfield’s local access channel at Westfield High School. He said he would like to see TV 36 put "on a par" with other channels offered in the Comcast basic cable package.

Third Ward Councilman John J. Walsh said he also would like to see TV 36 upgraded, noting that the station is "terribly under utilized."

Mr. Smith noted that Comcast could offer funding and technology to help improve the television station but that the overall control of programming lies with the Board of Education, Westfield High School and school district officials.

In response to a recommendation by Schuyler Quackenbush of Tamaques Way, Mr. Smith noted that Comcast is offering free access to the Internet for all schools and public libraries as part of their community service.

Gary McCready of Fanwood Avenue, a member of the school district’s technology committee, said the council should take into account the amount of revenue Comcast will make as the number of homes in Westfield connecting to the Internet through their service continues to rise in the years ahead when negotiating future contracts.

In other business, the council decided to hold off on action regarding a vacation of the 16-foot wide right-of-way along a section of Codding Road, a paper street which has yet to be developed. The town has proposed the land, thus reducing the current 66-foot wide street to 50 feet which is the customary size of streets in the town, according to Town Engineer Kenneth B. Marsh.

Residents Savas Emanuel and Gregory Bilitz told the council that the vacation will increase their property taxes by $200 annually. At the request of Mayor Jardim, the town tax assessor’s office will be asked to provide exact numbers of tax increases for each of the residences impacted by the change.

Alan Zegan, also of Codding Road, questioned a letter sent to residents noting that there would be no charge regarding the vacation. Mr. Marsh explained that there will be no charge for the vacation, which essentially is a change of title by transferring property owned by the town to residents.

He explained, however, that residents would be assessed for additional land added to their lots as a result of the vacation. Mr. Marsh said the change was proposed due to a subdivision proposed in the area. The extra land will enable the homes to be built without the need for variances.

Mr. Marsh explained that the issue involves three buildable lots. The owner of the middle lot has reached an agreement with the two adjacent property owners to purchase the middle lot. This lot has been divided in half for purchase by the two property owners.

Mayor Jardim, who noted that he feels the town is totally developed and thus he is leaning against future building applications, is in favor of the Codding Road vacation since it will help improve the area, which has not been kept up.

Mr. Marsh noted that under the current zoning, the lots in question would have insufficient depth, thus requiring variances.

Past Article: Liquor Law Appears Doomed
as GOP Vies To Vote No on Matter

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