Liquor license exceptions bill approved in committee

TRENTON – A liquor license exemption bill affecting one area – Teterboro – advanced in the Assembly Budget Committee Thursday.

A3131/S1904, which allows special liquor licenses, specifically for a real estate development project located in a municipality having fewer than 1,000 residents and in a redevelopment area established by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, was approved. Republicans Jay Webber and Chris Brown were the lone no votes.

The debate pitted the benefits of a huge development project with potential harm to holders of existing licenses.

Opponents, including the N.J. Restaurant Association, claimed that this bypassing of established liquor license rules will hurt some businesses, but Democrats Chair Vincent Prieto and Gary Schaer said it is likely that without this legislation this needed development project won’t proceed.

“The economic benefits are clear,’’ Schaer said, regarding the three licensees that  could be brought into Teterboro.

Some Committee members said it is a matter of balancing the development’s good qualities – brownfields reclamation, new jobs, more revenue – with possible consequences for existing businesses.

But Joseph Celentano, whose business, Rudy’s, is the only existing liquor license holder in the tiny town of Teterboro, said this bill will penalize him for playing by the rules.

“It negates the fact that I bought an asset,’’ he said, adding that the resulting development eventually with have negative spillover effects for mom and pop businesses in nearby areas such as South Hackensack.

But Prieto raised the question of whether existing businesses such as Rudy’s might not actually see even more business after this development proceeds.

Eric Schefler, with the developer  Catellus, said that despite opponents’ claims, the licenses are not “free,’’ and they are not transferrable to another competing business.

He said the project, a $100 million, mixed-use development, reclaims a contaminated former industrial property and represents a great overall benefit to the community. He said total environmental costs are about $30 million of that $100 million.

Currently, a municipality is limited to issuing one plenary retail consumption license for each 3,000 of its population and one plenary retail distribution license for each 7,500 of its population. This limitation has resulted in a shortage of licenses in some small municipalities, according to the bill.

Under this bill, one special retail consumption license may be issued in a given qualifying development project for every 50,000 square feet of improvements, capped at three, down from the original bill’s limit of five.

Earlier amendments also specify that the determination of the average sale price of each special license must include licenses recently sold within five miles of the premises.

Liquor license exceptions bill approved in committee