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UPDATED: Liquor License Denied for Proposed Bowling Alley

Council, as the ABC Commission, voted 3-2 in favor of denying transfer for proposed bowling alley/bar at 10 DeHart St.

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."

allison williams July 20, 2012 at 01:13 PM
BiggDogg There are no new liquor licenses in Morristown. The bowling alley license is from The Colonial. It would be much better for everyone to have an activity to do in a bar rather than drinking drinking and only drinking like every other bar in town.
FR July 20, 2012 at 03:03 PM
The ABC board members Deeb, Feldman and Smith voted the responsible way by denying this liquor transfer. The number of bars has by now reached a saturation point in the condensed downtown area, so there has to finally be a time to say "no". The problems with after hours issues such as noise, garbage and dangerous driving, etc. need to be addressed first, to come up with solutions before any other primarily drinking establishments are approved. There are other businesses that can go into the downtown area besides bars/bowling alleys. Having a variety of establishments, not just nightlife oriented places, is important to keep a town vital for the long term. The location for the bar bowling alley is too small anyway, DeHart is a small one way street that is already congested and is only one block away from existing and under construction residences as well as businesses on Maple Ave. As far as taxes go, the town gets much more revenue from the homeowners in the area than any of the bars and restaurants and those taxpayers have a right to be unhappy too. There has to be some thought to the long term future of the town, not to keep it in a time capsule necessarily but to definitely preserve some of it's heritage and charm and balance that with the new. Towns that have the foresight to protect some of their heritage will be a town that people value for many years to come as a desirable place to live and invest in.
Motown Resident July 20, 2012 at 10:35 PM
FR great points and there not falling on deaf ears. A concern is when 3 people (granted elected) can disregard zoning ordinances in the central business district. This proposal was in an area zoned for both a bar and bowling alley. This plan was one block from the center of Morristown, if not there in the business district, then where? "Not in my neighborhood" isn't suppose to apply in the business district but does now. This is about capitalism, a person in America should be able to open a business in a properly zoned area. Let the will of the people decide with there wallets whether its a good idea or not. We recently lost two businesses in Morristown due to lack of business aka people voting with their wallets. I think we should welcome the investment of a bowling alley, there not cheap and I suspect the bowling alley business with league play and kids birthday parties would far outweigh the concerns of a vibrant night life. I'm afraid politics played a factor, otherwise, an 800 person nightclub that hasn't opened yet wouldn't have been approved by your responsible ABC board. 6 months ago those same 3 people felt an additional nightclub with the capacity to hold twice as many people of any other bar in town was a fantastic idea. The Grasshopper often has problems with over-capacity and the fire marshall, yet the town won't increase there capacity. This political favortism shouldn't play a factor in business.
FR July 21, 2012 at 04:32 AM
This particular bowling alley would not be the type to have kids birthday parties and leagues, it is a "boutique" bowling bar, and not geared to families but more as a bar/restaurant with lanes attached, a trendy idea but not what people know as a regular bowling alley. In most bowling alleys, there is alcohol served but it is in a separate area of the facility. The one on DeHart St. would be a place where the bars are part of the bowling in an open area and are the main business. Also, I agree that a person should be able to open a business in a properly zoned area if the business idea is a good fit for the particular location, and the council is there to make decisions based on many factors, not just the zoning. I don't know about past decisions regarding the other bars, but I too would love to see a regulation bowling alley realized in Morristown, in a location where there is enough room and is not so crowded already.
Eat Me August 07, 2012 at 08:20 PM
I thought you could only have a stake in one liquor license in a municipality while these guys have three. Also their unsavory business practices should be discussed. Serving to underage patrons is detrimental to the other bars within Morristown. Everyone likes to talk about zoning and a fair capitalist venture but they are allowed to disregard rule after rule. Walk into the Darkhorse any Friday night and watch what happens before you criticize the town decision.

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