Morristown Council says no to outdoor bar nights on DeHart Street
Morristown resident Cynthia Geoffroy challenged the town council to rise to the Herculean task of slaying a 23-headed Hydra.
Members responded Tuesday by rejecting a bar’s request for 23 one-day permits for nighttime liquor consumption in a parking lot abutting luxury townhouses.
After hearing a litany of complaints from residents who live near the Tashmoo Restaurant on DeHart Street, and after grilling an attorney for Tashmoo partner David Walsh about everything from noise to porta-johns, the council voted 6-1 to nix permission for what resident Alice Cutler warned would become a “beer garden” that would sully the town’s reputation.
The only dissenting vote was Council President Michelle Dupree Harris, who favored tabling the matter until local fire, police and health officials could report back on the plans.
In hindsight, attorney Eduardo Jimenez said he wished he could have supplied more information at the meeting.
“I saw it going either way… we had the best information we could get,” he said afterwards, adding that he and his clients, David Walsh and Dehart Associates LLC, would explore “whatever legal options are available.”
TWISTS AND TURNS
If the meeting never quite reached the mythic proportions suggested by residents, it still had some novel twists and turns.
Eduardo argued that Tashmoo is a small, low-key bar with a mature clientele that is not responsible for the rowdy behavior associated with younger patrons of Sona Thirteen and the Dark Horse Lounge . . . establishments operated by other members of the Walsh family.
However, the lawyer acknowledged during a recess that there would be no way to keep rowdier customers of other bars from patronizing Tashmoo’s tent, which was proposed for a parking lot adjacent to Tashmoo, behind a three-story commercial house at 10 DeHart St.
Billy Walsh, David’s brother, tried putting a bowling alley/bar at the DeHart location but got shot down over the summer, after residents testified that drunken customers from downtown bars were disrupting their neighborhoods.
There also was considerable back and forth Tuesday between the council and town Attorney Vij Pawar about whether Tashmoo’s lawyer should be sworn in (he was not) because Eduardo was adding details not included in the permit applications submitted by his clients.
Specifically, council members learned that Tashmoo intended to serve alcohol until 1 am inside a tent erected on a 7,000-square-foot outdoor space, with live music until 10 pm or 11 pm.
‘ALMOST A BACKYARD’
“What you’re proposing to create is a large, cavernous establishment,” said Councilwoman Rebecca Feldman, whose First Ward includes Tashmoo.
Councilman Stefan Armington noted the tent would be less than 100 feet from luxury townhomes on Community Place and would violate the town’s noise ordinance.
Questions about heating of the tent, placement of emergency exits and portable toilets, and the impact on police who already have their hands full with weekend bar patrols, could not be answered.
The most vigorous questioning came from Councilwoman Alison Deeb, who represents the historic district where most of the objectors live. She echoed residents’ concerns about the town’s image, noting that theater-goers would have to pass the drinking tent en route to the municipal parking garage after shows at the Mayo Performing Arts Center.
The same would go for families attending the month-long Christmas Festival on the Green and the First Night celebration on New Year’s Eve, Alison said. David Walsh sought permits for outdoor drinking starting at 2 pm on several days around the Christmas holidays–and also around Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter and Memorial Day.
Alison took special issue with promoting outdoor imbibing around Christmas and Easter, with “a dozen churches” in the vicinity of Tashmoo.
“Do you want to make this town a 24-7 street festival?” the Councilwoman asked David Walsh during a break in the meeting.
Fenced off and shielded from public view, the parking area would be “almost a backyard,” Eduardo told the council. As the tide turned against his clients, he expressed willingness to trim the number of requests, asking council members only to consider permits for the Thanksgiving week at the moment.
When members opted to decide the whole thing immediately, instead of tabling the matter, the writing was on the wall.
“Would I want it in my neighborhood?” asked Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid, whose Second Ward is across town. “As far as I’m concerned, the whole town is my neighborhood. Living in back of this … I just don’t feel comfortable with it.”
She added: “We need to be more controlling with what’s going on with our liquor licenses. This is an eye-opener for us.”
On Wednesday the council will be at it again, this time weighing a request by the Iron Bar to expand its South Street liquor license next door to the former Zebu Forno space, for a Mexican restaurant and bar to be called Gran Cantina.
Residents have filed complaints opposing this application, too. Iron Bar owners Jimmy Cavanaugh and Darrell Remlinger contend their establishment has not experienced the problems ascribed to some of the Walsh family bars. The partners are represented by Robert C. Williams, the same lawyer who pitched Billy Walsh’s bowling alley plans to the council.
IN OTHER BUSINESS…
The council approved street closures for Santa’s arrival on Sunday, Nov. 25–a departure from past years when the Morristown Partnership welcomed the jolly elf to the Morristown Green right after Thanksgiving on Black Friday.
Coincidentally, the council also approved the Partnership’s $1.1 million budget. The amount represents a 1.65 percent decrease from 2011, said Jennifer Wehring, the Partnership’s marketing director. The organization promotes downtown businesses and streetscape programs; about half its budget comes from a special tax paid by businesses within Morristown’s “Special Improvement District.” The rest is raised via grants, advertising and events, Jennifer said.
The council also awarded a $1.9 million contract to the Benjamin R. Harvey Co. Inc. to build a new public works garage at the town sewer plant. It’s an essential step for the Speedwell Avenue redevelopment project, which calls for an apartment complex at the former DPW site behind Early Street and Atno Avenue.
Councilwoman Alison Deeb touted an Oct. 30 meeting of pet owners to discuss New Jersey’s proposed “doggie seat belt” law. The gathering is set for 6:30 pm at the Morris County Library.
And Mayor Tim Dougherty plugged a Nov. 10 food drive. Scheduled for Milleli’s Auto Repair at 175 Morris St. from 10 am to 2 pm, the event will be hosted by the Links Inc. to benefit the Interfaith Food Pantry of Morris County. Giving a shoutout to his wife, Mary Dougherty, an organizer of the drive, the Mayor joked that such acknowledgments helped spare him the risk of cold dinners at home.