NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - Residents Wednesday  expressed concerns about the type of establishments that might seek one of four possible borough retail consumption liquor licenses, and even wondered if the A&P grocery store in the Village Shopping Center might qualify.

About 40 residents attended a public meeting on the proposed Nov. 8 referendum question. The questions were taken from those posted on the borough's website and from the audience.

Borough Councilman Robert Munoz, borough attorney Carl Woodward and Deputy Police Chief Scott Torre fielded the questions.

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The borough will ask residents Nov. 8 for permission to sell retail consumption liqour licenses within the borough. An approval of the referendum would allow the  winning bidders to sell liquor of all types by the glass, bottle or in an open container. It is a different type of license than that owned by a liquor store, which is only allowed to sell packaged liquor.

The issue is being raised now because borough officials  are seeking additional sources of income that do not require tax increases.

Woodward said that based on 2010 U.S. Census data, New Providence would  be allowed to sell four liquor licenses. The standard is one license per 3,000 residents, he said. New Providence has about 12,000 residents.

He said the qualifications for the licenses would be determined  by the borough council and written into the bid documents upon which potential owners could bid.

Woodward said the borough is obliged to accept the highest qualified bidder for each license. He said the borough could offer all four for sale at one, or offer them one at  a time, of offer none for sale.

In answer to a question, Woodward said that if Applebee's was the winning bidder and the next highest bid came from a Ruth Chris' Steakhouse, the council would have to issue the license to Applebee's, as long as it met the quaifications.

"If that was the case, and we gave the license to the steakhouse we would most likely get sued, and would stand a good chance of losing the appeal," Woodward said.

Munoz said the planning board is drafting an ordinace that would be the basis of any new rules that would go into effect if the referendum passes.

He said the goal is to keep the licenses in the business district, to set rules for the hours of operation, and to exclude happy hour or drink-special type of events.

The borough is seeking higher-end type establishments, he said, and ones that would fit into the family-oriented comminity of New Providence.

He said a license would not be issued for an establishment that didn't serve food, The draft ordinance calls for a restaurant earning 50 percent of its business from food sales, he said, but that could be refined.

Torre said he spoke with the police chiefs in Berkeley Heights and Summit, both of which have offered  liquor licenses for years, and they told him that there were remarkably few incidents reported at the restaurants that served liquor.

Woodward clarifed several points: The A&P could not apply for a consumption liquor license less it entered the restaurant business; a shopping center owner can not purchase one license and apply it all the  food establishments in the center; any potential  bidder for a license must have an equity stake in the establishment they are seeking the license for; and the licenses are issued for a year and can be revoked at that time if there are violations that would warrant that action.

He said that in towns he is familiar with -- Westfield, Summit, the Chathams, Madison, Berkeley Heights -- restaurants with liquor licenses are a  small percentage of the food establishments, but they  add to the variety and quality  of those restaurants.

The League of Women's Voters of Berkeley Heights, New Providence and Summit  handed out a flyer with some information about the issue:

  • New Providence has twice rejected a liquor license referedum, in 1964, by a  3,891 to 1,250 vote, and in 1978, by  3,411 to 1,001 vote.
  • Summit has nine consumption liquor licenses, and Berkeley Heights, five, although two are inactive.
  • Summit sold a license for $500,000 in 2006, the flyer said.

The League listed these positions in support of the referendum: the town could attract "fine dining" restaurants, which would make the brough more attractive to home buyers and businesses; upscale restaurants would attract customers from a wider area and strengthen the downtown district; the sale of the licenses would provide revenue that could fund such public needs as improvements to the recreation fields.

The positions in opposition to the referendum listed are: remaining "dry" would enhance the borough's conservative character; the increase in municipal revenue is not worth the  risk to negtative change in the borough, and in a bad economy, the sale prices would  most likely be lower than the 2006 price in Summit; restaurants can start out as one type of establishment and over time decline to become more like a bar, which is undesirable in the borough.

Click here for a video of the meeting:

http://vimeo.com/30829589