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New Providence Council to Discuss Changes to Liquor Ordinance Monday Night

Mike Neavill

Saturday, August 23, 2014 • 3:53pm

NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – After more than two years of failed attempts to market a plenary retail liquor consumption license, the New Providence Borough Council plans on holding discussions to moderate restrictions of the existing ordinance at Monday night's Borough Council meeting.

For months, a heated topic of discussion among council members, business owners and residents has focused on what many see as onerous restrictions in the existing ordinance that raise a barrier to purchase of a license.

Still, others point to the asking price for a license which requires a minimum bid of $400,000.

Councilman Gary Kapner attempted to introduce a revised ordinance at a recent council meeting, but that effort was rejected when several council members complained they had not had ample time to study the proposed revisions or compare the proposed changes to the original language of the ordinance.

“I tried to make the ordinances easier to read, more streamlined and more to the point,” Kapner said. He added a major emphasis was to remove a lot of the language concerning construction codes which are already accounted for in other existing borough ordinances.

Kapner also took issue with a section of the ordinance that attempted to define a restaurant based on a ratio of food receipts to liquor sales.

As an example, he cited a couple that goes out to a fine restaurant and spends $50 on food and $100 on a bottle of wine. "The ratio is out of kilter," he said.

“We’re trying to make sure we get the appropriate establishment. We may have made it more complicated than it needs to be,” Kapner suggested.

Mayor J. Brooke Hern told TAP into New Providence he thought the current ordinance was good as it stands.

“If we can improve it or tweak it that’s fine, but I’m not in favor of a dramatic de-escalation of the requirements,” Hern emphasized.

He described concerns of restrictive language and expensive license costs as overblown and offered a specific example.

Hern said that several months ago the Harvest Group, owners of several up-scale area restaurants including Roots in Summit and Trap Rock Brewery in Berkeley Heights, had expressed a definite interest in leasing the former Chen’s Restaurant in the Village Shopping Center.

However, that deal fell through when property owner Erstadt-Biddle balked at Harvest Group’s insistence that the deal be contingent upon the successful acquisition of a liquor license. Instead the property was leased to Dim Sum Villa.

Hern said the Harvest Group was comfortable with the ordinance restrictions and, in fact, was prepared to bid higher than the minimum price if other bidders stepped forward.

Pushing aside those concerns, the mayor said, “The issue we have in selling our first liquor license has to do with the availability of real estate.”

The major impetus behind the approval of the liquor ordinance was to attract a high quality restaurant to the downtown area providing an economic boom to retailers.

Hern said the two story building that houses the Colorado Ski Shop is for sale and could be converted to a two-story restaurant. He added that the Medical Arts Building Is another possibility.

“We’ll just have to wait until something is available. I’m not in any rush to do something that is bad for New Providence,” Hern said.

Both Hern and Borough Council members have been adamant about their desire to attract a quality restaurant. “We want a restaurant that also serves alcohol, not a bar that also serves food,” the mayor said.

Discussions over proposed changes to the ordinance are scheduled to take place at the council’s next meeting on Monday, Aug. 25.

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