New Providence Voters to Decide on Liquor Licenses, Open Space

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NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - Borough residents will decide two non-binding referendum questions on the Nov. 8 ballot.

One will ask if the borough should amend its current liquor license ordinance to establish four retail consumption licenses to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages by the glass in establishments which serve food.

The second will ask if the borough should allow the use of the existing open space trust fund for improvements and maintenance of the borough's open space  and recreation fields.

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Both  referendum questions were the subject public meetings in October and the video of those meetings is available on the borough's website.

The Liquor License Question

The ballot question asks  for permission to sell retail consumption liquor 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 is 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.

Borough attorney Carl Woodward said the standard to detemine the number of licenses a municipality can sell is based on one  license  per 3,000 people.

New Providence has about 12,000 residents, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, he said, meaning it can sell four licenses.

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 once, or offer them one at  a time, or offer none for sale.

Councilman Robert Munoz said  the planning board is drafting an ordinance 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.

Munoz 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 percentage could be refined.

Deputy Police Chief Scott 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.

New Providence has twice rejected a liquor license referendum, in 1964, by a  3,891 to 1,250 vote, and in 1978, by  3,411 to 1,001 vote, according to the League of Women's Voters of Berkeley Heights, New Providence and Summit.

Summit has nine consumption liquor licenses, and Berkeley Heights, five, although two are inactive. Summit sold a license for $500,000 in 2006.

The Open Space Question

Residents will be asked if the borough should amend the existing open space ordinance to add the authority to make improvements to borough owned open space and maintain recreation fields. The borough's original open space ordinance only allowed the borough to purchase open space.

The borough collects .25 cents per $100 of assessed value to fund the open space trust fund that now has $650,000.

Councilman Alan Lesnewich, a member of the committee that is reviewing the recreation master plan, said an average borough homeowner pays $7 annually for the open space tax.

He said the committee determined that most of the recreation fields are in substandard condition from overuse and lack of the ability to rest one at a time. He estimated that the recreation use of the facilities has doubled in recent years.

He said the change in the language of the ordinance is not a reflection that the borough is favoring one type of land purchase or mode  of recreation over another.

"We feel that this is in the best interest of most of the people in the borough in the most cost-efficient way," Lesnewich said.

Woodward said the open space trust fund allows the borough to leverage state and county funds to purchace open space.

He said that because municipal purchases by law require an ordinance, the public would have the ability to comment on any open space purchase or structure or maintenance plan put forth by the borough council.

Arlene Regan, an employee of the borough recretion department who also served on the committee, said there isn't a lot of obvious open space in New Providence, but there  are undeveloped lots like the parcel behind Veteran's Park that the borough purchased for $100,000 after using $212,000 from the green acres fund.

Approval of the referendum would allow the borough to clean up that property, she said.

Lesnewich said the ordinace does not mean the borough can pay for routine maintenance like lawn mowing with the open space funds.The ordinance says that "improvements" are defined as items that are meant to last at least five years.

Last year, borough residents soundly rejected a recreation referendum that asked if New Providence should sell Oakwood Park to Union County.

For voting information in New Providence, visit the borough's website.

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