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UPDATE: Judge: Town Can't Restrict Alcohol to Moorestown Mall

Judge Ronald Bookbinder ruled the township can't keep the sale of alcohol confined to the Moorestown Mall, despite the result of the November referendum.

UPDATE: Check out the attached PDF to read Judge Bookbinder's complete ruling in the East Gate case. 

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A judge ruled Wednesday that the township’s attempt to restrict alcohol sales to the Moorestown Mall is invalid, along with the votes of thousands of residents who supported the restriction.

, arguing its restriction of the issuance of liquor licenses to the mall constituted spot zoning and was illegal. The township imposed the restriction in accordance with the will of the voters, .

However, Superior Court Judge Ronald Bookbinder couldn’t find any reasonable justification for keeping alcohol confined to the mall. In his ruling, the judge invalidated the April ordinance limiting liquor sales to the mall, as well as the second ballot question approving the limitation.

Bookbinder sided with East Gate, ruling that the ordinance is an example of spot zoning and the second question an example of zoning by referendum, which are both illegal.

Attorney Anthony Drollas, representing Moorestown Mall owner PREIT, argued there’s plenty of precedence for municipalities restricting the sale of alcohol to a geographic area.

“Because they address the issue of ‘where’ doesn’t make them spot zoning. There’s no question municipalities have very broad authority to determine where alcohol can be sold,” Drollas said. “It’s done every day of the week.”

However, while Bookbinder acknowledged communities have the power to confine alcohol to specific zones—the SRC (Specially Restricted Commercial) zone, for example, which the mall and East Gate both occupy—he said, “When you pick a lot within a zone, that’s where I start to have a problem.”

The second ballot question——restricted alcohol sales to “a full-service restaurant … on the same tax lot as an indoor shopping mall in the SRC zoning district,” i.e. the Moorestown Mall.

In his ruling, Bookbinder rejects the township’s and PREIT’s argument that the restriction of liquor specifically to the mall “protects the character and morals of the township” and “promotes the purposes of the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL), public health, safety, morals, and general welfare.”

He goes on to write, “The township and PREIT have made these broad determinations without explaining why it is reasonable to sell alcohol on the Moorestown Mall property and not on other similar properties in the SRC district … (The ordinance) benefits particular private interests rather than the collective interests of the community.”

Commenting on the validity of both the ordinance and the ballot question it was based on, Bookbinder states, "A municipality may not simply adopt an ordinance based on voter referendum if the ordinance would be unauthorized by the Legislature."

Moreover, the judge referenced the township’s Master Plan (written in 2009), which recommends restricting alcohol sales to restaurants in a geographic area referred to as “Moorestown Mall/East Gate.”

“The plan treats the Moorestown Mall property and East Gate property as the same area, but the planning board did not provide an explanation for limiting the sale of alcohol to the Moorestown Mall to the exclusion of other properties in the Moorestown Mall/East Gate area and the SRC district,” Bookbinder writes.

Bookbinder’s ruling raises questions about the availability of liquor licenses in Moorestown, since it effectively allows alcohol sales throughout the township—no longer dry after the passage of the first ballot question.

Drollas and township attorney Thomas Coleman raised this concern—since many people voted “Yes” on Question 1 with the belief that they could restrict sales to the mall—and pointed to one particular part of Question 2, which stated licenses would not be available for packaged goods stores.

“It’s still within the purview of township council to not have package stores,” responded Bookbinder, who explained the township is allowed to impose certain restrictions on the licenses.

An informal poll conducted by Patch earlier this year showed the majority of those polled (77 percent) would have no objection to alcohol-serving restaurants in East Gate.

Neither Coleman nor Mayor John Button were prepared to comment on the township’s course of action immediately following the ruling.

“I don’t have enough facts,” said Button. “I’m not going to overreact at the moment … I will wait (to comment) until I have more facts.”

Drollas also declined to comment on whether PREIT would appeal the judge’s ruling.

For his part, East Gate attorney Craig Huber was obviously pleased with the decision. , identifying the  as the possible future site of an “American-style bistro,” should the proposal be awarded.

“The town will let us know ultimately whether it will be granted,” Huber said, but was unable to provide any further information.

As for the four licenses PREIT already submitted proposals for, , Bookbinder said nothing has changed. East Gate was not attempting to invalidate those licenses.

HomeBrew August 23, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Moorestown Slogan Contest! It's Easy and Fun! Just complete this slogan, "Welcome to Moorestown: ______________________" Be creative. Be timely. Be imaginative. Like this: "Welcome to Moorestown: Come for the Liquor, Stay for the Syn" Enter and you could win a trip to the County Courthouse in Mt. Holly, where you'll sit in an ACTUAL COURTROOM and squirm as the Township Solicitor struggles in vain to defend Town Council's latest boneheaded decision. Oooh, oooh, I just thought of another one: "Welcome to Moorestown: Solicitors Welcome!" See. It's easy. Post and read entries here: http://homebrewsjavajive.blogspot.com/2012/08/moorestown-slogan-contest.html
Bill August 23, 2012 at 05:37 PM
"Welcome to Moorestown: Where hypocrites no longer drink in the basement bar " "Welcome to Moorestown: Where Quakers roll in their graves"
Terry August 23, 2012 at 05:38 PM
Township can sell a llicense for 1M plus but when a license goes for sale on the secondary market, that is when trouble could happen. The sale of that license is a private transaction between buyer and seller. Council has been so lax about explaining Question 2 among other things, that I wonder if they can be trusted to see that liquor doesnt end up where it isn't wanted.
Observer August 23, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Any sign of that Tax Relief yet?? I can't see it from my porch.
Turf Toe August 23, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Hey homebrew you can get turf toe on that old turf field. And where do you think this "new" turf field is going? Who said how that is being paid for.? If someone can get turf toe, maybe you think a new turf will replace the existing? Thanks for bringing me back into the conversation. Get all 5 new liquor establishments and their tenant to sponsor megabucks to the rec fund that our esteemed two manager was talking about. That would be on top of the $1M tag.
life time resident August 23, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Ed, I have a question. What would happen if another entity filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate any or all of the licenses that were previously awarded to PREIT? The basis being that they didn't bid believing that since they were not under the mall roof, they stood no chance of getting one. I thought that the article says "Bookbinder’s ruling raises questions about the availability of liquor licenses in Moorestown, since it effectively allows alcohol sales throughout the township—no longer dry after the passage of the first ballot question. As for the four licenses PREIT already submitted proposals for, and which the township has already begun the process of awarding, Bookbinder said nothing has changed. East Gate was not attempting to invalidate those licenses." This would seem a clear indication that another entity could seek to invalidate those awards bases on an unfair bid process. Just a thought.
M'town Truth August 23, 2012 at 06:30 PM
This is exactly what I knew - and said! - would happen. Spot zoning is not legal - unfair competition against other restaurants in town. I voted "yes" on #1 and "no" on #2 for that very reason. Proximity to schools and churches is the only criteria that can legally be used to restrict locations of liquor sales.
Observer August 23, 2012 at 06:37 PM
What about the remaining 99.99% that voted yes on both?
Bill August 23, 2012 at 06:42 PM
LTR- since the township hasn't approved the licenses where is the problem ? If other entities within the same Business zones want to bid, go for it. There's still one available. If business were interested they'd be following this story. They would have read this comment about the East Gate License "As for the fifth proposal, Coleman said the township will sit on it until East Gate’s lawsuit against the township is resolved. East Gate sued the township over its restriction of liquor licenses to the mall (which was enacted in accordance with the results of the November referendum). East Gate understands we’re not going to take any action on that application until the litigation is resolved,” said Coleman. He expects a decision from Superior Court Judge Ronald Bookbinder sometime in August." So any other business that wanted one could have submitted a bid and also waited for the ruling.
M'town Truth August 23, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Bob G - you've correctly assessed the issue. Ace - you also have the "optics" of the 2-part referendum exactly right. Part 2 was a "feel-good" pacifier for those worried about the evils of alcohol coming to Main Street (which, IMO can never happen because of the proximity to the many churches and Friends School). There was no way that the Centerton Square shopping area could have been legally cut out of competition, and town attorneys who insisted that Question #2 could hold up legally were being disingenuous simply to get #1 passed.
Terry August 23, 2012 at 06:45 PM
Really?? Perhaps citizens just do not like be played for fools by PREIT, council and solicitor??
Bill August 23, 2012 at 06:53 PM
"Proximity to schools and churches is the only criteria that can legally be used to restrict locations of liquor sales." No it isn't . "Bookbinder acknowledged communities have the power to confine alcohol to specific zones—the SRC (Specially Restricted Commercial) zone" As far as I know Main St is not part of an SRC zone.
life time resident August 23, 2012 at 07:06 PM
MTT, you are talking retail. A consumption or combination licenses can be (and are) issued within a couple of hundred feet of a school or church in NJ. The Mill Road Inn property sits about 60 feet from the Maude Wilkens Middle school property in Mapleshade.
Patricia White August 23, 2012 at 07:19 PM
"Disingenuous" aka "lying."
Turf Toe August 23, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Why are you bringing him into this? Are you suggesting a mistake was made somewhere? What's up with that? He doesn't have a vote on council.
Patricia White August 23, 2012 at 07:57 PM
Turf Toe: He advises council as to the legality of their proceedings. That's what your taxes pay him for. I think the general idea is that "good" legal advice prevents the township from facing lawsuits. As we have seen, "bad" legal advice results in the opposite. In this case, he "advised" that he had clearance from the NJ LCB that question 2 was permissible, although mere amateurs in the audience noted on several occasions that this constituted illegal spot zoning. Apparently regard for the law took a back seat to the desires of PREIT.
M'town Truth August 23, 2012 at 08:12 PM
ltr - thanks for the clarification. Isn't this regulated by each town, however?
Bill August 23, 2012 at 09:14 PM
LTR - what you posted is incorrect First - the Mill Rd Inn was an operating Bar since 1959. Long before the current law was in place. That would have exempted it. Since the law was passed you can't build a church or school near a bar or liquor store and then try to get it closed. That's not how the law works. And as the law has been challenged and upheld in court. Distance is measured by how a person would walk door to door. From the front door of the now closed bar to the front door of the school is about 545 feet. Google Earth, tools, ruler, measure distance in feet. Not that it would matter since the Mill Road Inn lost it's license years ago and hasn't been in operation for probably 10-15 years. PS- you're wrong about the combo license too.
Bill August 23, 2012 at 09:19 PM
@Terry So you're saying you were fine with alcohol being sold in Moorestown ? You just didn't like PREIT having a monopoly on licenses ?
HomeBrew August 23, 2012 at 11:39 PM
Moorestown Slogan Contest update: "Welcome to Moorestown: Judge Ronald Bookbinder, presiding." Check for contest updates here: http://homebrewsjavajive.blogspot.com/2012/08/moorestown-slogan-contest.html
Bob Gorman August 24, 2012 at 01:36 AM
Observer..Thanks for the below link: http://www.aopc.org/OpPosting/disciplinaryboard/dboardopinions/98DB2003-Coleman.pdf I would be interested in knowing if the Mayor and Council knew about this disciplinary action when the appointed Solicitor Coleman. If not shame on them. If so shame on them.
chopped serlin August 24, 2012 at 01:56 AM
is it me or was the attorney for the Dems a few years ago the guy who wrote the wrong open space question and HPC ordinance and oversaw the reevaluation during the market crash? All of this petty small town politics makes my head hurt. Come on bobby g do you really think your ticket lead by Hines has a chance? I heard the polling on Hines shows him with 70 percent unfavorables. That makes the clown in the white house look good.
Ed Nice August 24, 2012 at 02:28 AM
Rob others are making accusations of people lying do THEY have any proof or were they just opinions? LOL!!!
Turf Toe August 24, 2012 at 03:42 AM
Cs, so your polling suggests Obama and Hines will lose in Moorestown?
life time resident August 24, 2012 at 01:34 PM
N.J.S.A. 33:1-76 states in part that "no license shall be issued for the sale of alcoholic beverages within two hundred feet of any church or public schoolhouse or private schoolhouse for pecuniary profit. N.J.A.R. 218 (1980), wherein a New Jersey administrative law judge determined that the distance is to be measured in the amount of feet from the nearest entrance of the liquor selling establishment to the nearest entrance of the school or church". Doesn't this clearly say that an establishment could be across the street or two doors down? 200 feet entrance to entrance isn't much at all. It's roughly the distance from Friends schools closest entrance to Moorestown Tailor's closest entrance.
HomeBrew August 24, 2012 at 02:10 PM
Slogan Contest: "Welcome to Moorestown: You Get Stewed, We Get Sued!" See more and post your slogan here: http://homebrewsjavajive.blogspot.com/2012/08/moorestown-slogan-contest.html
Tom August 24, 2012 at 03:01 PM
ltr it does read that way but I cannot figure out if you are for or against it?
Ed Nice August 24, 2012 at 03:21 PM
Hey Tom it doesnt matter since Main St and chester ave are not in the SRC zone and unless anyone is planning on changing it its just a way for the NO liquor crowd to scare people. Next crazy posts will be BUT someone someday might. That has about as much chance as happening people in Moorestown stop complaining about everything. LOL!!!
life time resident August 24, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Tom, My personal feelings don’t really matter as I was only trying to respond to the claim that it could never be at the Chester Ave or Main St locations due to it's proximity to MFS. Ed is right in that the zoning would have to change for that to happen. However the assertion that “someone someday” might challenge the zoning is crazy/a scare tactic or that alcohol sales will never be anywhere other than SRC zones is something that we’ll just have to wait and see. Never is a pretty long time and probably the same word people used to say when taking about alcohol in Moorestown in the past. Certainly not a scare tactic on my part since I don’t have anything to personally gain or lose from this, but I can’t help but think for those who do, why not challenge the zoning?
Laura Spencer August 25, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Common sense should have prevailed - it was clear that this was going to be the result of the lawsuit and the ballot questions. I'm just shocked that so many people are surprised by this ruling!

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