UPDATE: With Disclaimer, State Says Restricting Alcohol to Mall OK

PREIT claims it will try to answer residents' remaining questions ahead of Election Day.

While it's not unequivocated, the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) has given qualified approval to the township's ability to restrict the sale of alcohol to full-service restaurants at an indoor shopping mall.

Before township council —the first to approve the sale of alcohol in town, the second to impose the aforementioned restriction—several residents raised concerns about the township's legal right to impose the restriction. If voters pass Question 1, they wondered, but the ABC deems Question 2 invalid, could there be alcohol anywhere in town?

Township attorney Thomas Coleman said he believed the restriction was enforceable, mentioning similar regulations in Willingboro, which limits liquor licenses to 250-seat restaurants, and Audubon.

But neither he nor council had solid answers because they hadn't checked the legality of Question 2 because they didn't introduce the referendums. Mall owner Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), in partnership with grassroots citizens group "Property Tax Relief for Moorestown," which distributed petitions to get the necessary signatures, was responsible for the ballot questions.

In a letter from ABC director Jerry Fischer to PREIT attorney Anthony Drollas earlier this month, Fischer states he reviewed an ordinance submitted by Drollas to restrict alcohol sales to the mall. He writes, "Ordinances which conflict with the state regulatory scheme or are preempted by state law are not approved," but does not say the ordinance submitted by Drollas does either.

Fischer goes on to say his approval "is not a determination on the merits of any specific case … nor does it preclude an appeal by an aggrieved party related to a specific application of the ordinance."

Those caveats in place, Fischer writes that he approves the ordinance.

Long story short: ABC says restricting the sale of alcohol to the Moorestown Mall is OK, but it doesn't mean someone couldn’t come along and challenge it.


A transparent campaign
The restriction question was only one of several raised at Monday's meeting by residents, who asked the township to host a special public meeting to provide answers to those .

Council was wishy-washy on those requests, again asserting the referendum issue was not of their making.

However, Seth Broder, unofficial spokesman for the citizens group, said he would be discussing with PREIT the possibility of holding public information sessions.

PREIT president Joe Coradino said "absolutely" when asked whether the company had plans to hold public meetings.

"We will be on a very transparent educational and community campaign," he said. "We recognize there are a great deal of questions."

He clarified that he saw the education/community campaign taking the form of a "series of smaller public meetings, rather than 300 people in a room."

Coradino said he and other supporters had a private meeting scheduled next week to plan out their information campaign strategy, which they intend to roll out after Labor Day.


'That’s the practical way to do it'
Another question that has persisted is whether PREIT could purchase one license to cover multiple restaurants at the mall. If that were the case, the township would bring in a lot less money from selling the licenses than if they were able to sell all six they're allotted (one for every 3,000 people in a town of roughly 20,000).

Zachariah Hosseini, a spokesman for ABC, put that rumor to rest by explaining that the owner of the license must also be the operator of the business.

PREIT's just the landlord, he said. Each restaurant needs its own license—unless PREIT wants to run the restaurant.

"It's very uncommon for a landlord to do that," Hosseini said.

Coradino said there are four restaurants with liquor licenses at the Cherry Hill Mall, which PREIT also owns, with a fifth on its way.

He explained the company's strategy: "When we hear there's a license on the market, we usually buy it, put it on the shelf, and when we get the restaurant, we tell them, 'We'll sell it to you for what we got it for' ... When they leave, we buy it back for the same price."

Bahama Breeze, Capital Grille, Maggiano's Little Italy and Seasons 52 all possess separate liquor licenses at the Cherry Hill Mall. Coradino also pointed out Bahama Breeze, Capital Grille and Seasons 52, though all owned by the same company, each have separate licenses.

Hosseini explained multiple restaurants owned by the same entity within the same building still can't operate off one license unless the establishments are contiguous.

"We buy the license to preserve the opportunity to have fine dining with liquor at our mall," Coradino said. "That's the practical way to do it. What we're doing is appropriate and legal."

According to PREIT, the ability to sell alcohol at the Moorestown Mall would generate approximately $4 million in revenue, up front, for the township through the sale of the licenses and $500,000 every year thereafter.

However, it's difficult to determine how much the township would bring in from selling the licenses because there's no history to use as an indicator and, while a license at Cherry Hill went for $1.6 million in 2006, there would be no other competition (assuming Question 2 passes) for licenses in Moorestown to ignite a bidding war.

Regardless, council's vote Monday directed the county clerk to place the questions on the Nov. 8 ballot and Mayor John Button wouldn't have it any other way.

"I am perfectly fine with putting it to the voters," he said. "Let's let the voters decide."

UPDATE: Letter from state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control to PREIT attorney attached. 

Ginger Hayes August 28, 2011 at 05:03 AM
That is not their job. Besides Patty, would it really matter what they say? By the shear nature of the words coming out of their mouth negates it in your eyes. Whichever side does the best job of marketing their version of the facts wins. Neither side is to be believed without taking on the responsibility to do your own research.
Pete August 29, 2011 at 03:41 PM
Hey PJ, if you like paying taxes, you can pay mine.
Rainy Irene August 29, 2011 at 04:28 PM
What's next with liquor? Is anyone rallying against our town having liquor? I'm sure those who have a drink a day would be against this. The way this was done and as someone said the legal dance to get this in the ballot. Didn't anyone on council see this? It does appear that a councilperson did not have to vote yes to place in ballot.
Stanley Ralph August 29, 2011 at 06:52 PM
Although I am loathe to leave comments in this outlet because of serious distortion of the truth, I am quite sure that the truth will come out shortly, and it will anger all Moorestownians. For now, there are ominous storm clouds on the horizon. Through the constant infiltration of EDAC and its Chair, Mr. Der Hagopian, PREIT (“The Mall”) has suggested, no threatened, to walk away, if their business needs are not met. Forget the nicely worded letter; it is deceiving on its face. We are being asked to change our town in a fundamental way, taking one step closer to AnyTown, NJ. Our Council reacts to the EDAC Chair as puppets on a string. Gallo, Button and Testa are hovering above it all for the moment, trying to have it both ways. But they are all for it. They are not stewards of our Town; they are destroyers of our town. And they are not representing the truth. They are dodging the truth. The truth is that the first referendum (to get liquor licenses in Moorestown) stands on its own. The second one only asks Council to limit by zoning or other means. Be aware that the second referendum is NOT enforceable because it violates the spirit and intent of Land Use law. Council will not tell you that now; they need the first referendum to pass. This is a ruse and far from honest government. This is another desperate scheme. Who stands to benefit?
Pete August 29, 2011 at 07:14 PM
Another divisive issue for the voters. I have no problem with current Council but am concerned about future years when licenses are bought and sold on the open market. The pressure of potential buyers could influence zoning changes to the detriment of our town. I think I’ll “just say no” to the entire deal.
BoozerSmurf August 29, 2011 at 08:11 PM
Unless I can't read, the article say that the "the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) has given qualified approval to the township's ability to restrict the sale of alcohol to full-service restaurants at an indoor shopping mall." Mr. Ralph says "Be aware that the second referendum is NOT enforceable because it violates the spirit and intent of Land Use law." Hm, who are we supposed to believe? An official agency like the ABC or some local guy who makes things up to scare people? Citizens do your own homework. Call PREIT or the ABC but don't listen to people who only like to hear themselves talk while they are talking down to you.
Rainy Irene August 29, 2011 at 08:53 PM
Call PREit? Huh? They are the ones trying to get the booze! The ABC? Huh? The are blinded by the twisted legal games going on. There was an article in the phila inquirer that stated from a ABC official (paraphrase) ' that, we don't what they are trying to seek with that phrase (no liquor on planes, trains, and boats'. , doesn't sound like that person was convinced. Again, the people of Moorestown are smart not to vote for this either because they are against liquor licenses in town and/ or they are disgusted with the legal games going on. Yes, it isn't that simple for the citizens. As Pete said "just say no" to liquor licenses on Nov 8th is the safe bet.
Rob Scott (Editor) August 29, 2011 at 08:56 PM
Just as a further clarification, since there's a lot of discussion on this topic: The ABC looked at the ordinance PREIT wrote to restrict licenses to indoor shopping areas (ostensibly the Moorestown Mall, though that could, technically, include other parts of town). The ordinance reads more or less the same as the ballot question approved by the township. In his letter, the director of the ABC states (and I'm paraphrasing here): "Your ordinance looks OK, but it's not infallible." Matters like this are often settled in court. Such may be the fate of this issue.
Pete August 29, 2011 at 09:07 PM
Yeah, and how much will that cost the township in legal fees??????
jean August 29, 2011 at 09:39 PM
Mr. Scott. A full two days ago I asked you: "I would like Patch to publish all correspondence between PREIT attorneys and the ABC. Apparently the written communications were provided to the Patch reporter. I would like to read in original form rather than having an interpretation by Patch. Also, what is the significance of the ABC “approving” the “ordinance”? What ordinance? " I repeat that request. Produce the documents. Your "clarification" makes it clear that you are not an unbiased reporter but rather receive your "news" from PREIT and its agents. It is interesting to note that PREIT is writing Town Council's future ordinances. And your understanding that the wording is "more or less" like the ballot question - totally worthless. Publish the documents.
jean August 29, 2011 at 09:46 PM
Pete, how much will it cost the residents in legal fees? Town Council will not contest anything that PREIT does. They will have Mr. Coleman give his "opinion" that nothing should be contested. That leaves the residents (who are already paying Mr. Coleman) to try to pay for a lawyer to contest the lawyer (Mr. Coleman) who they are already paying. The deal has been struck. PREIT has already written the ordinance for Town Council and submitted it to the ABC.
Bob August 29, 2011 at 10:38 PM
Town Council is allowed to adopt zoning ordinances. Citizens are not allowed to adopt zoning ordinances via initiative and referendum. Does the ABC director address that issue?
BoozerSmurf August 29, 2011 at 10:57 PM
Doesn't PREIT also pay for the town's fees? Actually, if they pay the most taxes, then if it costs money, then isn't it essentially free to the rest of us given how much they pay? Isn't that the point here? If PREIT pays 3.5 million and the average person pays like 10 grand, why is the attitude screm them or let them go bust. Ok, what's the plan after we screw them or they bust? They'll pay less in taxes and we will pay more. That makes no sense and I don't want higher taxes. Does anyone have a plan to reduce the taxes we pay? Taxes that fix roads, pay teachers, pay for the library and trash collection. All I hear is why lqiour is illegal and not right and the town shouldn't change but how come nobody has any ideas on how to fix stuff. You might be right about liquor but without something else to consider, I'm a yes.
Line Judge August 30, 2011 at 02:25 AM
Oh please boozer, what pity party for the mall Is that? Oh, are you one of those mall "representatives" with the "talking points"? As for opposition legal fees.. Since preit pay a lot in taxes, perhaps the township has all this money that the town can pay for the legal fees? Seems like Preit's "representatives" need to rethink that defense. Or you think the state should cover the oppositions fees sincenits a state commission? Let's get real. Something seems to smells here
jean August 30, 2011 at 03:05 AM
PREIT will not go bust. And it has to pay its property taxes even if it does. (Anyone out there who has lost a job/jad a salary reduction - does the township give you a waiver on your tax bill?)
Line Judge August 30, 2011 at 04:58 PM
Hey "the truth" that's a false start. Look, if by chance you aren't involved with "the mall" , the mall hired "mall representatives" to run a liquor license campaign against a dry Moorestown. The mall also have a "tax relief grassroots" that they seem to be running to be with "citizen volunteers". That is a questionable "controlled" group. But then there are the great citizens of Moorestown, who are volunteers and most will not want this liquor license idea.
Stanley Ralph August 30, 2011 at 05:51 PM
Believe this- I sought legal opinion on this (which I paid for $$$$). Shortly, all we have benefit of my investment in our terrific town. I agree. Citizens should do their homework. Pretty clear you haven't done your's.
Stanley Ralph August 30, 2011 at 05:55 PM
The misconceptions amaze me. Yes, only Council has the authority to adopt a zoning ordinance. But that's not the issue. Is the ordinance consistent with the Land Use Law? Does it poke holes in the spirit and intent of zoning? Is is Spot Zoning, favoring one entity, while restricting others? Our shemers on Council can pass whatever they want, but beware, challenges will be more costly than any revenue that might come our way.
jean August 30, 2011 at 09:59 PM
Why were two comments by "The Truth" and a reply from me deleted? None of them violated any posted Terms of Service.
jean August 30, 2011 at 10:00 PM
The update says the ABC letter is attached. Can someone tell me how to find it? I don't see it on my screen. Thanks.
jean August 30, 2011 at 10:14 PM
Ah, the Editor has advised me that asking about his relationship with PREIT or Tax Relief for Moorestown is a violation of the Terms of Service, that whether there is a violation is within his sole discretion, he has no relationship to PREIT or Tax Relief for Moorestown, and he will suspend my account if I ask any more questions like that. Nothing like a little investigating questioning. Perhaps answering the questions would have been a little more . . . transparent?
jean August 30, 2011 at 11:46 PM
Found the PDF. Thank you for posting it. Please tell us how it came to you. What is the value of this opinion in light of the wording that the ordinance, when proposed, does not have to be the same language? That it can be different from this hypothetical? And is there any conflict with another ordinance tracking Question #1? Would that be a conflict with the State regulatory scheme? Did the Township attorney rely on this opinion letter that Council had no choice but to put these questions on the ballot? Where is Township's counsel's opinion letter/opinion to Council that the questions had to go on the ballot? While I appreciate your publishing part of the "story", I would like to see a complete reporting. In my opinion, that would inlcude how you came into possession of the ABC advisory opinion.
Booze Nonsense August 31, 2011 at 04:06 PM
Hi stan, so by land use law, did the planning board discuss this? What about the zoning board? Did they discuss any of the liquor at their last meeting? Have the economic committee discussing this at their meetings? Do you have the minutes for those meetings? What is this, confuse the citizens in thinking come boardmember thinks it's ok, and let the citizens deal With it? What happened did you send a invoice to the township for your legals? Where that "Irene " and her "ominous cloud"? This whole thing is twisted. What do these ""outsiders" or " mall representatives" (outsiders) "tax relief grassroots" (mall?) think they are trying to do to our dry town? We citizens of Moorestown need some organization to defend our town. Rats!
M.Verado September 02, 2011 at 04:34 AM
Most of the posts I have read here are emotionally driven, exaggerated, misinformed, and quite frankly unfair. Many of you like to add unsubstantiated slurs to your comments in order to drive home your point. In my opinion, that represents poor behavior which discredits your own comments. You lose. If you want facts, ask for them or do some research. Here are a few for now. Maybe you can understand them correctly: Liquor at the Mall is not a planning or zoning issue. It is a license issued by the ABC for plenerary retail consumption where retail is already allowed. There will be multiple licenses issued, and the twp. can set the base bid price. Only restaurants that are contiguous can share a license. If there was only one license, and an infraction occured, all restaurants would be shut down since the license is suspended. Digest this for awhile and I'll provide more facts.
In the Cheap Seats September 02, 2011 at 06:46 AM
I have done research and am unable to find substantiation to the claims of either million(s) for license(s) or $500,000 per year to the town. Do you know if PREIT will be offering public question and answer meetings?
What's the Downside September 02, 2011 at 01:19 PM
How hard did you look? The license for Dooneys in Delran just sold for $725,000. And that's in delran in a strip center.
Non resident September 02, 2011 at 01:55 PM
The strip center is Delran is much like the ones that surround your mall and is newer and nicer than one or two in Moorestown. The digs at surrounding towns in the comments for articles on this issue and in letters to the editor, etc. on this site suggest an elitism/arrogance that is unbecoming and actually detracts from the special place many claim Moorestown is. The reason I am following this issue is for the benefit of the region, I'd like to see the mall succeed, with or without liquor, and I admire people expressing their opinions and getting involved. That is something you in Moorestown should be proud of, but don't take the low road by taking shots at surrounding towns where you also shop, dine, etc. The mall can't survive on Moorestown residents alone; the region must support it. I hope all sides get their say and the town makes a decision in its best interest, which in turn will be in the best interest of the region.
M.Verado September 02, 2011 at 04:12 PM
In the cheap seats, I believe the annual renewals of $500,000. are unrealistic, and could possibly be challanged in court. Again, the twp sets the starting bid price, and 800 k to 1 mill. is not out of line with high-end restaurants.I had heardPREIT has stated they will conduct Q & A meetings with various groups. I don't know if that will include Q & A with the general public.It would not be in their best interests to do so if it turns into a shouting match. Another fact: PREIT regularly appeals their taxes due to vacancy rate and decreasing value. The addition of say four restaurants would add value and decrease the vacancy rate which, in turn, increases their ratable value. Major renovations and/or expansion would add further to their tax value. Their property taxes will most definitely increase. Next, who will bid on the licenses.
In the Cheap Seats September 09, 2011 at 12:29 PM
MV - Cherry Hill received and added assessment tax bill for improvements made recently. They appealed it and won. Are we to believe PREIT would not challenge their assessment here when they have a long history of doing so? Liquor licenses didn't help Plymouth Meeting's vacancy factor. It is roughly the same as Moorestown. If PREIT wants to be able to make claims of income the town would receive they should be prepared to face some hard questions. I would hope that the PREIT reps would not shout too much.
In the Cheap Seats September 09, 2011 at 03:44 PM
Downside, you sense incorrectly if you think I wish the mall to fail. But it is up to the management to do what they can to see that that doesn't happen. Just as I have to balance my checkbook, they need to balance theirs, and stop appealing their tax bill or asking for special treatment. They are not the only taxpayer in town. Do you propose that we make special deals with all taxpayers or just those corporations that have friends who sit on EDAC and town council?


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