On multiple occasions during the more than three-hour Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission hearing on Wednesday, race was brought up and whether it may be an issue concerning a liquor license transfer request for 4 Early St.
Everyone that spoke during the meeting said it wasn't. But, that did not stop dozens of the people who packed council chambers in favor of approving the Futbolandia #2 liquor license from wearing orange wristbands with the words "Futbol-Landia 4 EQUALITY."
Regardless, after a hearing with property owner William Walsh and his lawyer–and dozens of public commenters, mostly in favor of the transfer and renovated restaurant it would be attached to–the Town Council (acting as the ABC Commission in Morristown) voted to continue the meeting at another date, prompting an extensive amount of sighs from those that were still in the room past 10 p.m.
"We need a little more time, I know I do," Council President Michelle Dupree-Harris said. "I need clarity from different departments."
"I heard some conflicting statements," Council Vice President Rebecca Feldman added. "It's important we do this with an eye to what's fair."
The continuation, where the council is expected to vote on the matter, is set for 6:30 p.m. on June 13. That also is the date of another Walsh family ABC hearing, .
The May 30 meeting was scheduled because letters of objection had been presented. Law requires that, when an objection is raised, the applicant must then be given an ABC hearing before a vote is conducted.
Any objectors on this night would be hard-pressed to find a seat, as most of them were filled with people in support of Walsh's project. The new Futbolandia #2 would include a 22-seat bar, pool table, and full food service for lunch and dinner, specializing in mostly Latino fare. All of this would be anchored by multiple televisions showcasing various soccer games.
The location has for several years operated as a banquet hall, named Futbolandia #2 after the original Futbolandia on Speedwell Avenue. Walsh–whose family also owns , and –has said he would invest $500,000 in the project, which includes the cost of the liquor license.
Only a couple objectors spoke out Wednesday night.
Jaclyn Hyland, a lifelong Morristown resident living on Early Street, said she feared traffic in that area of town would only get worse if the project went ahead. She also cited issues she has had with people vomiting, urinating and passing out in front of her property.
Robert Williams, the attorney representing Walsh, noted, however, that Hyland lived further down Early Street from the the proposed Futbolandia #2. "What in the world could that have to do with this application," he asked.
Robin Muskal, of Cutler Street, said she was concerned about alcohol being served late at night, citing the safety of her 10-year-old daughter.
"It's not a cultural or racial issue," she said. "Though I feel it's turning into one."
, Margarita Armington, was in attendance but did not speak.
Her husband, councilman Stefan Armington did, however, asking many questions to the lawyer and his client, including how they had gotten over 600 signatures of support for the project.
"It lists 13 people at 40 Early St.," Armington said. "That's a two-family house. Unless they're stacked there, they don't live there."
Jonathan Ramsfelder, a Walker Avenue resident for 15 years said he believed Morristown has had its share of homes that were stacked, the illegal act of fitting more people into a house than is allowed. He called this section of Morristown "blighted" and said of , "I'd like to have it occur tomorrow on a grand scale."
"Walking through Speedwell is not a nice experience for my family," he said, but added, "this is an opportunity for a bridge building."
The concept of bringing the two sides of Morristown–the Hispanic community and the English-speaking community–together was shared by several that spoke during the meeting.
"Morristown has two communities," said Eduardo Jimenez. "I think this has the opportunity to bridge that gap. It would bring physical beauty to that part of Morristown."
Hope Fiele said there wasn't a Latino restaurant with a liquor license in Morristown. "It would be great if there was," she said.
Fiele added that soccer, which would be the primary sport presented at the restaurant, isn't just a game for many Hispanics, "it's part of our culture."
"It will bring more of the two sides together," said Morristown resident Elizabeth McGuinn. "What are the concerns about South Street over Early Street?"
A firsthand South Street area resident, Christine Conti-Collins of the 40 Park condo development, said she was not against the project, but suggested certain conditions be strictly enforced. She cited her complaints about bars in her part of town, and instances where on Saturday, she was blown away by the scents of urine, vomit and feces.
Of her suggested conditions, Conti-Collins referenced . "Get it in writing," she said.
Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid addressed potential crowds and any issues of them spilling outside of the restaurant, which Williams said would have a capacity of roughly 200.
"We will make sure everyone clears the area in an orderly fashion," Walsh said. "It will never lose its character as a restaurant. It's not a nightclub."
Parking also came up several times during the night. Armington noted the lot behind Futbolandia #2 has a 20-person capacity for permit parking, meaning those spots would not be available to patrons.
"We're only two blocks from Headquarters Plaza," Walsh said, adding, "I am definitely doing this at my own risk."
He was referring to , which will be conducted over several phases. While nearby, a successive phase may lead to a number of buildings in that area being demolished, including Futbolandia #2.
"I will leave without any claims to anyone," Walsh said. "I understand it could be three months, it could be 30 years."
Cristina Martinez, a Denville resident and chair of the Morris County Hispanic-American Chamber of Commerce said "we want economic growth and development."
Martinez cited the "U.S. Hispanic buying power" of $1.3 trillion a year, and that the Hispanic population represented 12 percent of Morris County.
"We're not here as a Hispanic issue," said the Hispanic-American chamber's Vice Chair John Sanchez. "Mr. Walsh is in our Chamber and we support our members. ... I want to elaborate, it's about a business opportunity."
While Ramsfelder said he would like to see the Hispanic community and the rest of Morristown as one community, as well as economic growth from a successful project, "I'm not all that optimistic."
Certain issues, including improper signage, trash and other punishable offenses elsewhere in town seem to go unnoticed or unpunished by officials in the Speedwell cooridor, he said. Since he moved to Morristown, Ramsfelder said he has not seen much change.
Ramsfelder turned his attention to the council. "I'm holding you accountable," he said, next turning to Walsh. "If you succeed and have a thriving business, I will be a patron and I will congratulate you. We need to have the Speedwell Avenue cooridor addressed."
Whether Futbolandia #2 may serve as an economic and cultural driver in Morristown or not, Williams said the council had very little, if anything, that could prevent them from voting in favor of the liquor license transfer.
"Your cause for concern for citizens is comendable," he said, noting the council should listen, however, to their experts, including Chief of Police Peter Demnitz and Zoning Official John Fugger, who both did not carry objections regarding the project moving forward.
"You have an empty suit," Williams said.