Liquor license approvals may be decided by a new three-person Alcoholic Beverage Control Board instead of the City Council, if the governing body passes an ordinance to make the change.
The proposal was floated in April 2014, but rejected firmly by then-Council President Bridget Rivers. Now that Mayor Adrian Mapp has a favorable majority on the council, passage is more likely.
The city has more than 30 liquor licenses that must be renewed annually. Bars, restaurants and stores must undergo various inspections for adherence to state ABC law, but over the years the council has split between members wanting strict control and those who sympathize with owners of the establishments. In April 2015, the owner of a Richmond Street bar received a negative police report, but won approval to open a "gentleman's club" after promising it would not be sexually oriented. A liquor store that was denied renewal in 2014 still had the support of several council members, but the owner lost an appeal to the state ABC authorities and had to close.
The proposed ordinance calls for a three-person board, with only two of the same political party allowed, that would meet on its own schedule and have a secretary. Members would serve three years, though initial terms would be staggered. A member could be removed for cause by the governing body, and no member could have an interest in the liquor industry or receive any gifts from applicants or licensees. The ordinance would have to pass on two readings, but if so, would become operative in time for the 2017 liquor license renewal process.
Plainfield has social clubs, liquor stores, bars and restaurants that have specific licensing requirements. If an establishment passes Police, Fire, Health and Inspections reviews and pays state taxes and fees on time, license renewal is routine. Other licenses may be held up until all city and state requirements are met. The council has the power to hold hearings on proposed denials and the proposed board would presumably have the same power under state ABC law.
The council will hold a joint agenda-fixing and regular meeting 7 p.m. Tuesday (Jan.17) at Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.