Chamber of Commerce discusses 500 foot rule

Council members, the police department spoke with business owners about possible repeal

The Hoboken Chamber of Commerce hosted their monthly roundtable breakfast last Wednesday morning featuring City Council members as guest speakers, and the 500 foot rule was the major topic of discussion.
The rule in the city code prohibits any establishment with a liquor license from opening within 500 feet of another licensed premises. The city council has been discussing a possible repeal of this law through an ordinance introduced by Councilmen Michael Russo and James Doyle at a September council meeting.
Some establishments with licenses are already closer together, especially in downtown Hoboken, and are “grandfathered” in. Recently the council has held public meetings where over 40 members of the public voiced their opinions for and against repeal.
Roughly 20 members of the business community attended the roundtable breakfast at Amanda’s at 908 Washington St. to discuss the possible repeal. Police Chief Ken Ferrante, Lt. James Roofe, Doyle, Russo, and Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher listened to their concerns and questions.

‘Problem bars’

Several attendees questioned the motivation behind the repeal, safety issues, quality of life concerns, and protections.
Ferrante discussed four of his concerns from a public safety standpoint.

“You can have that commitment absolutely from me but I don’t want to speak on behalf of the other council members.” – Michael Russo
He said currently there are three areas where there are a high number of bars clustered together in town – Hudson Place, First Street between Washington and Madison streets, and Washington Street from 1st to 4th streets. If the law were repealed, he worries that the number of bars could not only increase in theses areas but that more clusters could form throughout the city.
These areas are of police concern during event days such as Leprecon, Santacon, and Halloween. To prepare for the upcoming Halloween weekend he has hired an additional 50 police officers to be in those areas and he hopes to get 30 more from other municipalities.
His second concern is that bars with a high number of fights and assaults, where underage drinking occurs, where sexual assaults occur, and drug use is of a concern, will move to congested areas or residential areas.
Ferrante would not name the bars he considers problem bars but he has spoken with the owners.
Ferrante is also concerned that a bar which now has an occupancy limit of roughly 70 patrons will move to a bigger space with double or triple the capacity but will not be able to manage the business as well. He is also concerned that restaurants may decide to operate primarily as bars if they fail to make enough money serving food.
Roofe, the enforcement officer for the Alcohol Beverage Control Board, echoed Ferrante’s concerns and added the issue of restaurants becoming clubs in the evenings. He said clubs and bars bring sidewalk lines of people, noise complaints, and increased pedestrian and motor vehicle traffic to neighborhoods.

Why repeal?

Michael Fasciano, owner of Margaritas and Mikie Squared, questioned what the drives are behind the ordinance change.
Russo said he would like to see more restaurants and bars on the west side of town in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Wards. He hopes that repeal will disperse restaurants from the 1st and 6th Wards to other areas of town, and that restaurants that may not have a liquor license can purchase existing liquor licenses and have the opportunity to serve alcohol.
Doyle said he has heard from several members of the community who believe that Jersey City “is eating our lunch” and would like to see business remaining in Hoboken.
David Jacey, owner of Tally Ho and Black Bear Bar & Grill, agreed that Jersey City has taken some business away from Hoboken but asked why bars would move to the west side of town and not the central business district, which has been a major concern for many residents. He suggested setting up zones to promote these areas as opposed to a repeal of the 500 foot rule.
Russo said he believes restaurateurs may want to move to the west side of town because the rents are less expensive. Fisher suggested some type of incentive for business owners to locate to areas of town that may want restaurants.
Tom Brennan, owner of the Hudson Tavern, wanted to know why it was necessary to repeal the law if instead it could be possible for an establishment to get a variance on a case by case basis with perhaps a type of hardship exception.
He also said his business has been negatively affected by other bars and restaurants moving to the area, citing Pier 13 specifically. He said that often the pier’s outdoor bar patrons come to his establishment and are already intoxicated, causing problems for his supper patrons.


Resident Jim Vance suggested limiting a bar or restaurant’s hours of operation, for example requiring that they close by 11 p.m. in a residential area. Fisher stated that she believes this could be a step over the line and she wouldn’t want to limit the businesses opportunity to thrive. Russo stated that he believes limiting the hours of operation could be a fairness issue and if they did that to certain establishments they would have to do so across the board.
Armando Luis, who own La Isla, welcomed having more competition in the area of his most recent location in uptown Hoboken, saying he believes it will increase his business due to “the principle of three.”
At the public meeting last month, Garry Holtzman of the planning board said that in planning there is “a principle of three,” meaning when one type of business opens in an area it has a hard time succeeding, but if there are three it creates a destination where more people are likely to go.
Luis suggested limiting the number of bar seats a restaurant could have to overall seats.
Luis said he would also like to see a phasing period because he believes that a change would be unfair as business owners for the last 20 years have made investment decisions based on the current rules.
Russo said that while he is sensitive to that argument the reality is that rules change overtime and as councilman his major concern isn’t someone’s bottom line but rather what’s best for the entire community.
Eugene Flinn, owner of Amanda’s, the Elysian Café, and Shnackenbergs, suggested that it’s a density issue, saying that perhaps its not where the bar and restaurants are next to each other or on the same block but rather located within a specific area as he believes “competition is great.”
“I think that the more restaurants we have, I know that I feed on his restaurants and he feeds on my restaurants,” said Flinn. “If he can’t seat them and we have a seat here and vice versa it works to our advantage to have a certain demographic in that cluster.”
Flinn asked if the council would pull the ordinance until a more methodical plan was in place to move forward. “There is no trust if we know every two weeks it might be on [the agenda.]”
President of the Chamber of Commerce Richard Mackiewicz asked “Can we then have a commitment that there is not going to be a vote to just repeal, but instead it’s going to be to replace it with hopefully something better?”
Russo said “You can have that commitment absolutely from me, but I don’t want to speak on behalf of the other council members.”
The repeal ordinance will not replace the current ordinance but rather be a companion to it, according to Fisher. Russo believes the new ordinance should empower the ABC board.
Russo said moving a licensed premises is currently a burdensome process. He stated that currently if you obtain a liquor license or wish to move its location and individual must go before the ABC and either the planning board or the zoning board. He would like to make the ABC a “one stop shop” which would address all transfer concerns.
Doyle said that if the rule is repealed, and they discover that it is an issue, it could always be reinstated. Fisher said that this may be the case but bars and restaurants that have already moved would be grandfathered and protected.
Russo stated that the council is still in listening mode and they are not looking to make a decision as of yet. Doyle said that they haven’t even written anything down yet and that they are still looking at public input.
Russo stated that he doesn’t believe change will happen all a once if the ordinance is repealed. He said that maybe one or two establishments will move within the first year and that he will “eat his hat” if five or more move. This is because several establishments are already in a lease and unable to move.

Marilyn Baer can be reached at

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