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Opinion: The Booze Battle and the Library Letdown

The wheels of government move very slowly—or not at all.

Another slow news day found Mo’town’s booze issues on the front page of the Inky! That’s right, folks! On the front page of last Wednesday’s Philadelphia Inquirer was a story about liquor and the . I was startled out of my heat-induced torpor the week before to see a story about wild turkeys in Hainesport, also on the front page of our once venerable Philadelphia newspaper. I get lawsuits are newsworthy, especially in light of Mo’town’s reputation of being a dry and very staid community. But wild turkeys? Only if we’re drinking Wild Turkey at a fine dining establishment at the mall!

The liquor license battle continues, with . They want to turn on Nixon Drive , but what would they call it? Friendly and Boozy? No more “happy ending sundaes” for the kiddies, but plenty of happy ending Sundays for the imbibers.

I was present at one of the town council meetings when someone from the peanut gallery asked about . Mo’town solicitor Thomas Coleman shot down the questioner without going into detail. Someone then explained spot zoning to me: the abuse of zoning laws to benefit one property owner over another. I had to admit part two of the liquor referendum did seem to be a textbook case of spot zoning.

This issue is so tiresome because the so-called “unnamed” indoor shopping mall—also known as the Moorestown Mall—is SURROUNDED by booze. Let’s use our fingers, boys and girls, and count the many full-service establishments close to the unnamed mall: P.J. Whelihan’s, Tacconelli’s, Mikado, Bertucci’s, and Don Pablo’s. Can we also throw Yokohama in there because it’s my fave for great sushi and the occasional Kirin beer? So as the summer heat continues to reduce us to unattractive puddles of perspiration, we are all waiting on the edges of our beach chairs to see what exactly the liquor licenses will do to revive our town.

If you don’t know by now, nothing happens immediately in Mo’town, or any other town. Before any project gets started, obscene amounts of money must be spent on feasibility studies, land usage surveys and soil remediation with nothing to show for said studies. That’s just the way it works … or doesn’t work. Recently, the city of San Bernardino, CA, declared bankruptcy, so we must be patient and realize the wheels of government move slowly or not at all.

Speaking of slowly, back to the municipal complex we go. In 2011, , he inherited the project like many before him. In 2010, Kitchen and Associates were booted to the curb and a new firm, Ragan Design Group, was awarded a professional contract at the September 27 council meeting (Resolution 143-2010).  So when the mayor took over, Ragan was already being paid to a) prepare bid specs for the and b) redesign the , again.

Starting in January 2011, council began its pretzel-like journey to where we are today—. In March, when the consent agenda resolution was read, Monique Begg expressed her concerns regarding the “volunteer committee” that was going to work with Ragan. 

(A little sidebar here about Monique Begg. She and her husband attend every single town council meeting. She is a very vocal supporter of transparency in government and has spoken at length in support of our library. To their credit, town council treats her with the respect she deserves, even though it is obvious they disagree with much of what she says.)

Spring of 2011 finds everyone going in circles. A town resident brings up rehabbing the library AGAIN. Ragan advises a rehab would cost more than $5 million, versus $6 million for a new odor-free building. There is much talk about downsizing the building to 22,000 square feet. The back and forth crescendos with a special July 14 meeting where task force committeeperson Robert Hill addresses the delightful synergy between the and the library in his committee’s recommendation of combining the two buildings as Phase I of the municipal project. I was present for many of the meetings in 2011, and I remember envisioning the cacophonous chaos of a combined library-rec center. I also remember the outrage that swept through the peanut gallery at the thought of tearing down the rec center, a perfectly good building with a history that stirs the sentiments of many, many Mo’towners.

Ragan, apparently listening to the library board and library director Joe Galbraith, stated there seemed to be more synergy between the library and the , with shared public meeting spaces and shared IT services.

At the September 19 meeting, Deputy Mayor Greg Gallo expressed concern with the fact that the size of the library (in the Ragan plan) had gone from 22,000 to 26,000 square feet. He asked if there was any way to shrink the project, leading to my snarky comment about the “incredibly shrinking library.” Gallo suggested an increased revenue contribution from the library might be helpful, to which Karen Olejarz, president of the Friends of the Library, replied that the Friends urged council not to downsize the library.

For those who are unaware, the Friends finance most of what we do in the Children’s Department. They pay for the programming and materials that make the library’s children’s department one of the best around. This past Thursday night, for example, we had a “Stuffed Animal Sleepover.” Twenty-five children came in their pajamas with their stuffed animal. They were treated to an hour of storytelling, a movie, a take-home craft, milk and cookies. After the kids went home, we in Children’s scurried around photographing their stuffed animals reading their favorite books, playing with Legos and eating Cheerios. We then created keepsake booklets that the children picked up on Friday. This could not have been done without the generous support of the Friends.

and inherits the hot potato known as the municipal complex. At the December 9 meeting, Carew, in discussing the proposed shrinking library, notes that “the books smell,” and .

Much to the delight of not only the library staff, but also the citizens who patronize the library, the closed-stacks option is taken off the table at the January 27, 2012 meeting. The smelly books triumph, as does Greyhawk Construction, . Raise your hands if you’re wondering how Greyhawk keeps making money for a project that has yet to happen.

I have been absent from most council meetings since the spring, when the mayor and his minions were preparing to appropriate Open Space funds for the fields project. That discussion was tabled when an .

As for the library, it remains to be seen whether the municipal complex will break ground this fall, . We at the library continue moving forward, but no one is holding his or her breath that groundbreaking will actually happen. After all, it’s been almost 20 years! And as the summer of 2012 creeps along, we'll wait and see what happens with the Booze Cruise at the unnamed mall on Route 38.

Wake me up when something actually happens.

snake eyes July 16, 2012 at 11:58 AM
So as others have asked in previous blogs..is the mayor really running for council? Is his house for sale? Is his run for election as an independent a real campaign or just to get back at some in his "party". Where is the independent campaign? It seems non-existent, rather "his" republican party's candidates appear to be moving full steam ahead. That says a lot. As for the town, we'll see what the judge says in a few weeks if east gate get the "booze". We agree here, that replacing friendlys with an applebee's or whatever is a mistake. The town hall- library project situation is all over the place from what you hear. Too many studies , too many hands in the kettle. We would like to hear from the republican candidates before labor day to hear their ideas. After the dems ran things 6 years ago or whatever nothing got done and we were over taxed. Can't consider the dems. What are the updates?
Patricia White July 16, 2012 at 03:51 PM
Marsia: Excellent column as always and a sad commentary on the glacial pace of progress in Moorestown. If I may offer one correction, I believe the "peanut gallery" was renamed "the cheap seats" by a former Councilman who subsequently shilled for PREIT. From where I'm sitting, the seats are not especially cheap. Neighboring townships seem to be able to maintain their public spaces; have clean, updated libraries and some even have senior centers (not a shack with a card table and folding chairs).
John K July 16, 2012 at 04:05 PM
In enumerating the full-service food and alcohol establishments surrounding the mall, don't forget to include Iron Hill on your list too. As for wild turkeys, there's at least one mother hen with her brood of seven chicks (poults) that have taken up residence in our neighborhood (along the East 2nd St.,. between Stanwick and Pancoast). There are frequent sightings in our yards...quite cute actually. I'd include a couple of photos of the turkeys taken with my cellphone camera... if I could figure out how to attach them to this post.
Rob Scott (Editor) July 16, 2012 at 04:08 PM
John, Feel free to email them to me. And if possible, let me know the next time they're wandering around and I can swing by, get some pictures of my own.
Ed Nice July 16, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Hey Pat I often wonder how other towns are able to have better facilities than us too. we do pay $1.5 million in taxes to the library and look at poor upkeep it has gotten us. What do you propose we do? More taxes on families who are struggling to put food on the table or what?
M'town Truth July 16, 2012 at 04:47 PM
There is a family of wild turkeys (well - at least a mother and many babies!) living at the now-defunct outdoor skate park on Church Street. I have cell phone video of them, but not sure how to share that.
M'town Truth July 16, 2012 at 04:48 PM
What a sad, cynical person you must be. Also not very familiar with birds, I'd guess. There is a big difference between wild turkeys and turkey vultures.
Rob Scott (Editor) July 16, 2012 at 05:03 PM
M'town Truth, Same goes for you. Feel free to email me the cell phone video, if you can. I should be able to upload it to the site.
Herbert July 17, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Marsia, wonderful piece. It is a litany of failure of our Mayor Buttton's failed management of our public resources and our public money. I think I have heard on Main Street many times that about $2,500,000.00 has been spent to date on the failed library and municipal project which Mayor Button was responsible for supervising. Can the taxpayers of Moorestown afford to have Mayor Button for another term with his competencies so blatantly wasting taxpayer money? Can Moorestown Taxpayers afford Mayor Button mis-managing our town for another term? I don't think so. Don't vote for Mayor Button - he wastes taxpayers money time and time again.

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