Around 80 residents packed a North Bergen Alcohol and Beverage Commission meeting on Monday, claiming that opening a new liquor store in the mall along Tonnelle Avenue near 88th Street would add traffic and pollution. However, the residents’ recently-formed North Bergen Concerned Citizens Group (NBCCG) was accused of being a front for a competing liquor store, Tonnelle Wine & Liquors, which is across the street from the strip mall where the new store would open.
The owners of the proposed new store have applied for a certificate of occupancy and liquor license. Monica Marcano of Mount Arlington holds an inactive liquor license and is asking the board to allow herself and her father, Agustin Concepcion of West New York, to transfer the license to the new store, Somsovinos. Marcano said the new store would be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“If the board would follow its own rules, none of the board would be here tonight.” – Anthony Bianciella
At the meeting Monday, an attorney for Somsovinos, Alexander Locatelli, charged that “The citizens have been paid to be here.”
However, the group said they are simply citizens concerned about traffic and noise in the area.
Board, attorney questions group
At the meeting on Monday, ABC Board Attorney Eric Bal also questioned the motives of the citizens’ group.
Bal asked Mario Blanch, the attorney representing the NBCCG, whether the group’s members had paid dues to join and whether everyone from the group had signed a petition opposing the license transfer. “I’m trying to figure out who you represent, if there really is an organized group called the Concerned Citizens of North Bergen,” said Bal.
Blanch said North Bergen resident James Fernandez had paid his retainer, and that the group was of people with a “similar mind.”
Later in the meeting, attorneys for Tonnelle Wine & Liquors asked the board to write down all of the attendees’ names, but no one, other than those who spoke during public session, agreed to identify themselves for the list.
“Well, I think the board has intimidated them,” said Blanch, who staunchly denied that the group was being paid by Larry Wainstein, the owner of Tonnelle Wine & Liquors.
However, during Locatelli’s cross examination of Vanessa Fredes, one of the members who circulated the petition, she confirmed she has worked for one of Wainstein’s check cashing businesses for a year and a half. But Fredes said her concern was over traffic in the area and said there were already enough liquor stores.
“Nobody has received a dollar to be here,” she said.
Blanch accused the ABC board of hostility toward the residents.
Application riddled with errors
At the beginning of the hearing Bal advised the board that they could permit the license transfer. But paperwork errors pointed out by Anthony Bianciella, an attorney for Wainstein, prevented it.
Among those errors, Biancelli said, Concepcion’s name was spelled wrong, along with his address, which had been published several times in notices with his former Union City address. Bianciella said that this invalidated Concepcion’s criminal background check.
A tax clearance notice for the property was also required for their 2010 bulk of sale notice, which is filed with the state. But the ABC board only had their 2009 tax clearance notice, and the application had a separate identification number that the board did not possess. Concepcion’s Social Security number was incorrect on the application.
Bianciella also said that under state ABC regulations, the board should not grant a person-to-place license transfer until the owner receives certificates of occupancy.
“If the board would follow its own rules, none of the board would be here tonight,” he said.
Bal asked Locatelli how much time he would need to revise their application and the board settled on continuing the hearing on March 29 at 7 pm.
Residents mad about traffic, treatment
“[I’ve seen] at least three accidents,” said Yesenia Capote-Torres at the meeting. “One of my family members was rear-ended down 91st Street by someone rushing to get to the green light, so everyone is bumper to bumper because of the safety issue and safety concerns. I don’t shop there anymore. I know quite a few people who do not shop their anymore.”
Resident Michael Kreutzer said that communities with high crime rates often have a large number of liquor stores.
“I’m really just a concerned citizen of the area,” said Kreutzer, who said he did not know Wainstein.
On Thursday, the NBCCG issued a press release charging the ABC board’s treatment was disrespectful because the board “battered” them with questions about themselves and their motives, rather than listening to their concerns.
“It’s a real slap in the face of the people of this community when they take the time to attend a government meeting and are greeted by nothing but hostility,” said Kreutzer in the release. “If North Bergen officials and their appointees think that 100 people turning out to a town meeting on a snowy night isn’t a sign that something is wrong in town, then they are really misreading the community.”
For more on the Tonnelle Avenue traffic issues, see related story inside.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.