Morristown’s council got a virtual earful Tuesday from neighbors of the Woman’s Club, scene of a loud outdoor beer garden that police shut down on Friday night over concerns about social distancing protocols being flouted.
“There must be a violation here. There should be an appropriate sanction of some sort,” said Community Place resident Richard Herburger.
He questioned how the Tashmoo Restaurant & Bar got approvals to operate in the club’s parking lot, why the DeHart Street bar was allowed to exceed its normal indoor capacity, and why no advanced notice was given to neighbors.
Tashmoo’s outdoor permit was rescinded by town officials on Saturday. The episode stirred tensions, dormant for the last few years, between residents seeking peace and quiet and bars that have discharged tipsy patrons into neighborhoods at closing time.
The sound of 100 outdoor patrons conversing on Friday could be heard a block away, almost certainly violating the town’s noise ordinance, Herburger said.
Even with her windows closed and the air conditioning running, Cyndee Geoffroy said, the music outside her Community Place townhouse on Friday was so loud “I knew every word of every song.”
Special state permits designed to help bars rebound from the March lockdown could lead to more trouble, Geoffroy said, if bar owners are allowed to extend outdoor operations far beyond their premises.
Homeowners want local businesses to succeed, she insisted. But at the same time, “we really want our property rights and values not to be compromised.”
Councilman Robert Iannaccone offered an apology.
“This one, quite frankly, just got away from us and we’re all not happy about it,” said Iannaccone, whose First Ward includes the downtown.
Councilman Michael Elms said he, too, was outraged by social media postings of the densely packed, largely mask-less gathering.
“You know, a month ago, over Memorial Day weekend, we also we also have pictures from Missouri from this Lake of the Ozarks party. And you know, I would think that something like that would not happen here. But obviously it did,” Elms said.
In response to the weekend issues, Iannaccone said, the town has clarified its rules:
No music at these temporary outdoor venues. Outdoor capacity is limited to an establishment’s normal indoor capacity. If Tashmoo returns to the council to seek reinstatement of its permit, the public will be notified in advance. And alcohol only may be served to patrons who are seated, by waitstaff wearing masks.
Of more than 40 establishments issued sidewalk permits so far, Tashmoo is the only one “egregiously out of line,” said town Administrator Jillian Barrick.
After fielding noise complaints about Tashmoo on Thursday, she said, she worked with the bar owner all day Friday to ensure compliance with COVID-19 safety strictures.
“Despite my best efforts and the amount of time that was spent with the owner, the owner did not comply,” Barrick said.
Owner Billy Walsh has not responded to Morristown Green’s requests for comment.
Weekend social media postings of tightly packed crowds at Shore bars bothered Gov. Phil Murphy , who warned on Monday to expect crackdowns if outdoor venues do not follow social distancing protocols.
“This stuff is out of bounds,” Murphy told reporters. “Too many viral videos for my taste.”
Likewise, Mayor Tim Dougherty promised the Tashmoo treatment for any local tavern that ignores the governor’s executive orders.
“This town will shut you down,” he said during Tuesday’s Zoom session. Town hall remains closed to the public.
Although Morristown has seen few new cases of the coronavirus in recent weeks, everyone should continue wearing masks, washing hands, and maintaining six feet of distance, Dougherty said.
“Let me be clear, we are not out of the woods on COVID-19,” he said. “It is not over. It is spiking all over this country.”
Dougherty praised Barrick for “doing the work of 20 people” to help Morristown businesses launch outdoor operations. Council members echoed their support.
In other business, officials outlined…
- June 24: Virtual meeting at 6:30 pm for public discussion about plans for long overdue Speedwell Avenue park bordering the Modera apartments parking lot. Check town website for login details.
- June 25: Virtual meeting of planning board at 7 pm to formally approve the M Station office redevelopment.
- June 27: Morristown’s Burnham and Cauldwell pools reopen. The town still is hiring lifeguards and health monitors.
- July 2: Indoor dining at restaurants resumes, at 25 percent of normal seating capacity, with safety protocols.
- July 2: Playgrounds reopen. Guidelines from the state are pending.
- July 6: Full-day summer camp opens at the Cauldwell playground, half-day sessions at Elliott Street.
Also, after years on the drawing board, work finally has started to transform a barren plaza into a park at Headquarters Plaza, according to the mayor.
SALARIES AND BUDGETS
By a 6-0 vote (Council President Stefan Armington was absent), the governing body approved the $1.26 million budget of the Morristown Partnership, the organization that promotes downtown businesses and sponsors the Morristown Farmers Market and the fall and Christmas festivals on the Green.
About half that amount is raised via fees assessed from businesses within the downtown “Special Improvement District,” noted Iannaccone, council liaison to the Partnership. Events and grants cover much of the remainder.
The council also introduced a salary ordinance that keeps stipends for the mayor and council members at last year’s rates: $26,962 for the mayor; $11,017 for the council president; and $10,017 for the other six council members.
Another ordinance set salaries for management and non-union employees. It’s up for a final vote on July 14, 2020. Below are the ranges, by position. You also can find them here, starting on packet page 7.