Can Morristown bars work together to clean up their act?
The town council decided on Tuesday to give them the benefit of the doubt, following a script from Mayor Tim Dougherty that could redefine downtown life and, by extension, define his mayoralty.
Acting as the town’s Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the council agreed to one-year liquor license renewals for six bars that were subjects of written complaints from a handful of residents frustrated by public drunkenness, sidewalks soiled with human waste, noisy trash collections and other problems.
Heeding suggestions by the Mayor, the council created a subcommittee to devise a system for bar owners to share costs of four off-duty police officers for downtown foot patrols on Friday- and Saturday nights.
The subcommittee’s goal is to find a tiered approach, where busier bars contribute more toward the extra security.
To goose things along, the Mayor said the first two months will be underwritten by the police budget.
Councilwoman Alison Deeb asked why taxpayers’ money should be spent fixing bar problems.
The Mayor–who does not serve on the Alcoholic Beverage Commission–characterized $7,400 a month for two months as a good investment in the downtown’s longterm prosperity, and said the money has been budgeted for hiring police. The additional police will patrol downtown streets between 10 pm and 3 am.
Politically, the Mayor’s blueprint for “creative cooperation” is a gamble. Morristown bars have a lousy track record when it comes to collaborating. And the town has been less than responsive, according to Roseann Loia, the very first buyer at the 40 Park luxury condos.
Roseann has spent more than two years seeking relief from cooking odors vented by the Office restaurant and bar; on Tuesday she finally got a pledge from new owners of the Office (Villa Enterprises) that restaurant renovations next month will resolve her issue.
The Mayor is rolling the dice that all downtown bar owners will make similar good-faith efforts to appease residents and businesses and avoid turning a thriving scene into a p.r. nightmare for the town.
Christine Conti-Collins, an outspoken critic from 40 Park, expressed skepticism–yet agreed to join council members Michelle Dupree Harris, Rebecca Feldman and Stefan Armington on the subcommittee.
Representatives of the Morristown Partnership and the Morristown Parking Authority will serve on it too, and lawyers for the Iron Bar and the Office asked to participate.
Licenses for those two establishments, along with Tashmoo, the Dark Horse Lounge, Roots and Urban Table (which share a license) and Sona Thirteen were renewed, along with about 40 other licenses for liquor stores and restaurants that were not opposed by anyone. The council votes were unanimous, with Kevin Gsell recusing himself from the Sona Thirteen vote because of family ties. Councilman Anthony Cattano was absent.
Councilman Stefan Armington proposed a 90-day postponement of approvals for the contested bars, to give the subcommittee time to do its work. Bars would have little incentive to cooperate once their licenses were renewed, he said.
But attorneys Robert Williams (the Iron Bar) and Doug Henshaw (the Office) said postponements would pose a hardship for their clients, requiring them to trek to Trenton this week for temporary permits. It also would get the subcommittee off on the wrong foot at a time when bar owners have expressed willingness to cooperate, they said.
Council President Michelle Dupree Harris agreed, and Councilwoman Rebecca Feldman and Assistant Town Attorney Elnardo Webster II said most of the objections raised by residents pertained to issues not directly related to the alcohol licenses.
Faith Teeple of Franklin Place pointed out that strict conditions–including the hiring of off-duty police–were imposed recently on Futbol-Landia, a sports bar proposed for Early Street by William Walsh. She asked why the other contested bars were not held to the same standards.
Rebecca Feldman said the Walsh family agreed to those conditions to prove to residents that a bar could be a good neighbor in a neighborhood that has no bars.
Futbol-Landia has other hurdles, however, including delinquent taxes. Linda Carrington, a resident of Macculloch Avenue, asked if a bar could be approved for a property that hasn’t paid up. Elnardo Webster said no–the taxes must be paid. About $17,000 in taxes and fees still are owed by the landlord, according to town records.
But lawyer Robert Williams, who also represents William Walsh and the Futbol-Landia project, countered that the town cannot deny a liquor license transfer because of unpaid property taxes.
Stay tuned for more coverage.