Bowling is not coming to Morristown, at least not for now.
The Town Council, acting as the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, voted 3-2 Wednesday night in favor of denying the liquor license transfer to Gracie Sunshine LLC, a proposed bowling alley/bar at 10 DeHart St.
Council members Rebecca Feldman, Raline Smith-Reid and Allison Deeb voted down the transfer, while Stefan Armington and Michelle Dupree-Harris voted in favor. Council members Anthony Cattano and Kevin Gsell were not in attendance.
Robert Williams, the attorney representing Gracie Sunshine, said he planned to appeal the decision.
Wednesday's meeting was , which saw many residents both for and against the project in attendance. More people spoke at the most recent meeting, for nearly two hours.
Those against the project said, among other issues, that there were too many places serving alcohol in that part of town already, and that something needed to be done to address concerns with parking, trash, human waste and crime that many see as the result of too many bars.
"There are 14 bars within three blocks walking," said Robert Angelica, of Community Place. "I have personally experienced plants urinated on, plants ripped out, my car vandalized."
Angelica said when –owned in part by the same Walsh family that proposed the bowling alley and also owns nearby and –opened several years ago, there was a "severe rash of vandalism" that prompted he and others to meet with the owners of the bar to discuss how to put a stop to the problems. He said the owners offered to hire private guards, which, "if so, that arrangement must have only lasted a week or so," Angelica said.
The tone of the room escalated several times during the hearing, from laughter to groans to quick rebuttals from various commenters. "Where did you get that information," Williams asked Angelica, in reference to saying the Walsh family owned both The Dark Horse and were involved in the proposed bowling alley/bar.
"Bill Walsh is sitting here with you," Angelica said. "I think it's pretty well known it's the same people in both bars."
Those in favor of the project–a two-story boutique bowling lounge with a restaurant and bar, as well as rooftop seating–said it was a unique idea that would benefit the town.
"Whether it's a bar, frozen yogurt or another restaurant, we should be endorsing small businesses these days," Chopin Patel, of 40 Park, said. "I think we're getting too fixated on there being too many bars. We have a lot of frozen yogurt and restaurants, too. That's the beauty of Morristown."
Samantha Ratty, of Morris Township, called Morristown "a destination spot," and said a project like the bowling alley/bar would have "more responsible drinkers."
"They're not going there to binge drink," said Ratty, who moved from Flemington five months ago. "This isn't just another bar per se."
"If you don't like kids, don't move near a school," said Brendan Tully, a Morristown resident for 13 years. "If you don't like bars, don't move into the middle of an urban center.
"Every business should be given a chance," he added.
Donna McNamara, of Colles Avenue, however, said she has noticed the negative effects of Morristown nightlife–namely, the noise–encroaching ever closer to her part of the area. "Thank God nobody has p*** on my flowers yet," she said.
McNamara moved to Morristown 31 years ago, a young, unattached person looking for a fun place. "I chose Morristown for many reasons," she said. "It was really a city environment."
She still spends her money and time in Morristown, whether it's at the , the restaurants or even The Dark Horse, a destination historically-known to attract a younger audience. But, having renovated what once had been a run-down residence in the historic district over the last several decades, McNamara has also come to appreciate the substance, character and history of Morristown.
"To have this (the proposed bowling alley) be steps from the Green, The Presbyterian Church, the heritage, I just can't support that at all."
Both Feldman and Deeb said the idea of a bowling alley in town was great, but, "I love the idea, hate the location," Deeb said.
Deeb suggested another location might be more suitable for the project. "It's not your fault, Billy [Walsh]," she said. "But, maybe this council should first talk about these problems and then revisit this."
"It meets all qualifications," Williams said. "Right now, we're talking about 167 seats, over 50 percent dedicated to bowling. This is a bowling alley with a restaurant and bar accompanying it.
"The problems [people are citing] aren't created by Gracie Sunshine," he continued. "If people speed, can no one ever have a car? I don't think it's fair. It's a permitted use, you just can't go there because are some other bad actors in the area."
Smith-Reid said she still believed the bowling alley, while taking up a large portion of the floorplan, was more a front for the bar. "Were you ever at that bowling alley at 1 a.m.," she asked one person who noted they would prefer to bowl in Morristown then have to go elsewhere like Madison and Hanover.
The councilmembers in favor of the plan said conditions could be put in place to address some of the issues presented, including forcing the rooftop deck to close at 10 p.m. and the whole business to close at midnight.
"I love the bowling alley and rooftop cafe," Armington said. He suggested some ways to alleviate past problems could include permit parking for residents, which would force bar patrons into the parking decks.
"We make choices about where we want to live," Dupree-Harris said. "I've seen change. There are ways to solve problems. We have an opportunity to make change before we say 'no' to a business like this."
After the meeting, Walsh, shaking his head, said he wasn't sure what to think of what had just happened.
"I'll talk to Robert [Williams] and we'll figure this out," he said. "All I know is we're the first liquor license to be rejected in Morristown."