Law & Justice

Belmar Hit with $10 Million Lawsuit over Outdoor Bar Fight

8eadd9fc751f4a84c116_harmons-1.jpg
Salt, a tiki-style bar and café that continues to sit vacant on the banks of the Shark River –the subject of legal action between its owners, Timothy and Matthew Harmon, and the borough. Credits: Cathy Goetz
dc033aec217d9a7bceef_harmons-2.jpg
Timothy and Matthew Harmon closed its 507 Main restaurant, located across the street on River Road from Salt, so that its liquor license could be transferred to the new outdoor bar and café. Credits: Cathy Goetz
8eadd9fc751f4a84c116_harmons-1.jpg

BELMAR, NJ — A $10 million federal lawsuit has been filed against the borough by the owners of a proposed outdoor bar whose liquor license transfer was rejected.

Brothers Timothy and Matthew Harmon are seeking damages resulting from what they claim is the borough’s deliberate attempt to prevent them from opening Salt, a tiki-style bar and café at 710 River Road that continues to sit vacant on the banks of the Shark River.

In the five-count complaint, the Harmons contend that the borough and named borough officials — including Mayor Matthew Doherty, Police Chief Andrew Huisman and Belmar’s four-member council — have violated their civil rights, state and federal racketeering laws, and have inflicted emotional distress since they launched plans in April 2014 to build, open and have a liquor license transferred to Salt.

Sign Up for E-News

“The action is to recover damages for the violation of (the Harmons’) rights to control and operate their businesses and to own, operate and control and transfer them free from the tortious, fraudulent and extortionate conduct of Belmar politicians, officials, employees and appointees,” according to the complaint, filed this week in U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey, by Roger McLaughlin, the Wall attorney representing the Harmons.

Mayor Doherty called the lawsuit frivolous, baseless and lacking merit, and an attack on the borough’s Police Department. “I am particularly disturbed by the way Tim Harmon and Matt Harmon viciously attack the Belmar Police Department with false allegations,” he said in a statement. “Their police bashing is clearly a way to undermine our Police Department. We have an outstanding department that serves and protects our residents and deserves the support of our community.

“The way (the Harmons) defame our police is over the line, and based on their own lawsuit, it is all because they allege the town caused them emotional distress and hurt their feelings,” he continued. “We will aggressively defend our police against (these) attacks.”

According to the complaint, the Harmons were met with myriad setbacks intentionally placed in their way by the borough to prevent them from opening Salt, culminating with the denial of the liquor license transfer in June 2016. These roadblocks have included a 14-month Police Department investigation of a routine liquor license transfer, delays in the issuance of permits, and stop-work orders implemented during the construction process for alleged code violations, the lawsuit contends.

In addition, the complaint claims that because a similar outdoor establishment located minutes away from Salt — 9th Avenue Pier at the Belmar Marina, which is owned by the borough and leased to Chefs International — the borough “did not want another outdoor café/bar to open on the waterfront in Belmar.”

The lawsuit also alleges that the borough has interfered with the operation of Boathouse Bar and Grill on Main Street, also owned by the Harmons for more than 20 years, in retaliation for their efforts to open Salt and subsequent legal action.  

In addition to Doherty and Huisman, also named in the lawsuit are council members Jennifer Nicolay, Thomas Brennan and Brian Magovern, former councilwoman Janis Keown-Blackburn, Borough Administrator Colleen Connolly, Belmar Police Captains Thomas Cox and Tina Scott, Borough Construction Officer Ted Bianchi and Borough Code Enforcement Officer Robert Poff. Loko, LLC, which owns the River Road site and filed its own lawsuit in the matter in November 2016, is also named in the latest complaint because it holds the contract and lease for the property with the Harmons.

The never-used establishment is situated across the street the Harmons’ former 507 Main restaurant, which was closed in 2015 so that its liquor license could be transferred to Salt. But those plans were thwarted last June 8 when the Borough Council voted 2-1 to reject the transfer. Voicing concerns over the location of the outdoor bar, councilwomen Keown-Blackburn and Nicolay voted against the measure, while councilman McGovern voted for the transfer. Councilman Brennan, a musician who plays at many bars requiring borough approval of their liquor licenses, recused himself from voting on renewals and transfers on that night, including the 507 Main-to-Salt transfer. Mayor Doherty was absent from the meeting.

Following that vote, the Harmons filed an appeal last June with the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control seeking a reversal of the liquor license denial — a case that is still pending, according to McLaughlin.

Additionally, Loko, owned by developer Gregory Kapalko, filed a lawsuit last November against the borough, claiming that Doherty and the borough violated a two-phase redevelopment agreement approved in 2014 for the riverfront property. Under the plan, the outdoor bar and café would be constructed and used for the first three years, making way after that for construction of a mixed use building of residential condominiums, and first-floor commercial space, which would include a restaurant and bar.

According to the latest lawsuit, the $10 million amount was set based on lost sales and revenues from the operation of Boathouse and 507 Main, loss of prospective sales from Salt, destruction of good will that the Harmons built for their Boathouse and 507 Main businesses, and legal costs.

The complaint also asks that the Harmons’ liquor license be transferred to Salt so that they can still be able to open the outdoor establishment for a three-year period.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Belmar/Lake Como

Princeton Students Achieve Success: Bog Turtle Designated State Reptile

June 19, 2018

TRENTON, NJ — Legislation inspired by students from Princeton designating the endangered bog turtle as the New Jersey state reptile has been signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy.

“I am so proud of the successful effort of students at Riverside Elementary and their teacher, Mark Eastburn, to name the bog turtle as New Jersey’s official reptile,”  said Sen.

Upcoming Events

Carousel_image_4a1c64948c48a958cf1e_belmarwomansbookgrannyattic

Fri, June 22, 11:00 AM

Taylor Pavilion, Belmar

Belmar Woman's Club Book and Granny's Attic Sale

Carousel_image_7ae118156f1d20aed5df_bbppyanoeplaza4

Fri, June 22, 6:30 PM

Pyanoe Plaza, Belmar

Friday Night Concert Series: Chris Turner and the ...

Carousel_image_e39a6027bb97b7e5457b_jumblesale

Sat, June 23, 10:00 AM

Calvary Baptist Church, Belmar

Calvary Baptist Church's Giant Jumble Sale

Carousel_image_ed119faeffa218b57791_belmar_logo__2_

Sat, June 23, 11:00 AM

Mitzi and Emily's Playground, Belmar

Belmar Mini Town Hall Meeting

Keep 12th Avenue with ‘Normal Height’ Homes

June 21, 2018

To the Editor:

Attend the (Belmar Zoning Board of Adjustment) hearing on (Thursday, June 28) to voice your opposition to having two five-story condos of 24 units each on the first block of 12th Avenue. Join your neighbors in protesting this density of buildings and 62-foot height of housing units that will have a negative impact on the residential quality of the neighborhood.

The Belmar Inn ...

Cool Ways to Save Money This Summer

As the summer temperatures rise, home cooling costs rise as well. But there are ways to help save money without sweating the heat:

To increase your cooling system’s efficiency by as much as 20%, get it checked out for summer.  A technician will clean the condenser, make sure you have the optimal amount of refrigerant, and ensure the airflow over the coil is ...

JCP&L Completes Inspections and Projects Before Summer to Enhance Customer Service Reliability

June 12, 2018

MORRISTOWN, NJ — Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) has completed inspections and projects across its 13-county service area, including Monmouth County, to enhance customer reliability in preparation for the summer season.

The work included upgrading transmission and substation equipment, upgrading circuits and trimming trees along power lines.

Helicopter patrols are ...

Facebook Provides Verification Badges for All TAPinto Facebook Pages

TAPinto and its 75 partner sites have been verified on Facebook with the social media platform's blue badge, which is given to news organizations that meet Facebook's authenticity criteria. 

Facebook gives the blue verification badge to "eligible brands, media organizations and public figures," based on factors that include policy compliance and public ...

Belmar and Lake Como

June 2, 2018

Belmar Police Department reported the following arrests occurred in Belmar and Lake Como from April 1, 2018 to April 28, 2018.

BELMAR

Ryan Miles, 33, of Belmar was charged with contempt on an outstanding warrant after his arrest on April 1 on Route 35 by Police Officer Patrick McGill.

Lisa Perrault, 49, of Long Branch was arrested on 16th Avenue on April 6 by Police Officer Patrick ...