Opposition From Liquor Store Owners Kills Proposed Regulation Change

ORDINANCE DEFEATED – An ordinance that would have removed a 2,000-foot distance requirement between liquor stores, promoted by Mayor Phil Kramer, was defeated after facing stiff opposition from township liquor store owners.

An ordinance that would have eliminated the requirement that liquor stores be located at least 2,000 feet from each other was defeated at the April 9 Township Council meeting after liquor store owners showed up to oppose the measure.

The store owners told the Council that allowing future liquor license holders to set up shop closer than 2,000 feet to another store would give them a competitive edge that current license holders could not enjoy.

Mayor Phil Kramer said he was prompted to suggest the change after he was approached by a person who purchased the township’s last liquor license, but could not find a suitable location to set up shop.

“That’s what triggered it,” he said. “I’ve always thought it was a silly rule. When we came out with the cannabis restrictions, we didn’t have that. There’s no distance restrictions for cannabis dispensaries.”

The number of liquor licenses a town in New Jersey can sell is determined by population count calculated by the U.S. Census Bureau every 10 years. Franklin experienced enough of a population gain from the 2010 Census to the 2020 Census to qualify for one more license, bringing the total to nine.

Township Manager Robert Vornlocker said the distance requirement was set in 1948, when Franklin was far less populated and there were fewer liquor stores.

“There are only so many places in Franklin Township that are zoned for this type of business,” he said. “The more you add to this type of business in particular, the more difficult it becomes to locate one that isn’t within 2,000 feet of another.”

That didn’t sway the liquor store owners who showed up at the meeting.

“Doing this at the request of one license before the license has been placed is unfair to every other license who did their due diligence to come up with a place in the current ordinance,” said Mark Van Burik, who said he was representing the owners of Scarlet Knight Liquors on Hamilton Street. “It gives the new license a competitive advantage and doesn’t take into account the investments they put into their buildings.”

“Allowing a new license holder to do this before doing their homework …. is not fair to all the other licensees,” he said.

Drew Patel, who owns two Bottle Republic stores with his brother, Ketan, told the Council that passing the ordinance would give an unfair competitive advantage “to an existing license holder who hasn’t chose the location yet. That isn’t fair to us who have made the investment in town, spent hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars doing that.”

Patel said he and his brother couldn’t start their store in their preferred location on Hamilton Street because of the distance requirement.

“We chose our location up on Easton (Avenue), which was a run-down location, the Drug Fair,” he said. “We invested a significant amount of money in the plaza, and slowly the plaza came back. That law spurred new economic development in that area.”

“To give that unfair competitive advantage to once person … everybody should be playing by the same rules,” he said.

Ketan Patel said all the other liquor store owners “played by the rules.”

“You say it’s a small change, but it will have a big impact,” he said.

“We’d like to ask you guys to really think about this,” Ketan Patel said. “By helping one person, you’re going to end up harming pretty much everyone else who is here.”

Nisha Desai, an owner of Hidden Lake Liquors, likened her fellow alcohol retailers to families.

“If this passes, I think you are all looking at slow deaths for our families,” she said. “We’ve invested thousands and thousands of dollars in our businesses and following all the rules that are in place.”

“I think every business that comes in town should follow the same rules that we followed,” she said. “Please do not kill our businesses because we have invested a lot of time, a lot of money in this town.”

“The new rules apply to everyone,” Deputy Mayor Ed Potosnak said.

Vornlocker said the Township wouldn’t be able to sell another liquor license until at least 2030, assuming Franklin’s population increased by at least 7,500 people from the 2020 Census.

“There won’t be any more coming other than this one, which would be located wherever that owner chooses to locate,” he said.

“The free market, I guess, would get to decide this,” Potosnak said.

“I do get what you’re saying, and I feel your concern, and I do understand that,” said Councilman Ram Anbarasan (D-At Large). “Some of you I know well, so it’s a tough topic to vote on.”

Township attorney Lou Rainone said that removing the restriction would make all liquor licenses more valuable.

“When people go to sell these licenses, there are more opportunities,” he said.

“I think the main thing that was a consideration is that with marijuana dispensaries, there are no restrictions,” Potosnak said.

“This was not to help a certain person,” Kramer said. “It triggered it, but in my mind, it brought this up, and I’m acting on what I thought was the right way to do this.”

“Any business, a supermarket, a pizza restaurant, or any business, would love to have a monopoly where they have a restricted area,” he said. “We’re really talking about one, maybe two in the next 20 years. I don’t think that’s an excessive burden.”

Councilwoman Kimberly Francois (D-At Large) noted that Hamilton Street has many beauty salons with no distance requirement.

“The restrictions on this ordinance were very antiquated, that’s what made me change my mind,” she said.

The liquor store owners were persuasive; Anbarasan voted “present,” while Councilman Carl Wright (D-Ward 4) voted “no.”

Kramer, Francois, Councilman Charles Onyejiaka (D-Ward 3) and Potosnak voted “yes.”

Council members Alex Kharazi, Shepa Uddin and James Vassanella were not present. Five affirmative votes are needed to pass an ordinance, so this proposal failed with only four “yes” votes.

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