New Jersey Liquor-License Reform Brewing for New Year

Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, chairman of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, aims to introduce legislation in mid-January that would update the state’s current liquor-license laws, which critics charge are arcane and the most restrictive in the nation. In New Jersey, such licenses can cost businesses from $50,000 to more than $2 million apiece.

The measure will likely create a new category of liquor licenses that would be issued strictly to restaurants, mom-and-pop and chef-owned types of establishments, said one real estate executive who’s participated in talks with Burzichelli about the bill. But the lawmaker said it is premature to discuss any details of the legislation, which he described as a work in progress with “a lot of moving pieces still.”

Burzichelli has been meeting with various stakeholders, such as restaurateurs and real estate developers, to devise a compromise bill. Current license holders want to be compensated if any change in the law devalues their licenses. The negotiations have taken longer than expected, as Burzichelli originally looked to introduce his legislation in September.

It’s creating a whole new category of licenses, while not eliminating the existing kinds of liquor licenses, said George Jacobs, a principal of Jacobs Enterprises of Clifton.

Only restaurants within a certain size limit, with only a small portion of their space devoted to a bar area, will be eligible for the new restaurant liquor license, Jacobs said.

“I’m safe to say that the new license will not carry the same powers or rights as existing restaurant licenses,” he said. “There will be limitations on size, on transferability. It’s very much geared to supporting a restaurant and will not be applicable to basically a bar.”

The goal is to support downtowns and redevelopment projects, because small local restaurants need liquor licenses in order to survive, Jacobs and NAIOP have argued. Smaller eateries often can’t afford licenses, or there are none available in their towns to purchase.

“It’s [the bill] not intended to promote highway chains,” Jacobs said. “They all do fine. The mom-and-pop suffers, the chef-owned restaurant suffers for lack of a license.”

Some of the outstanding concerns relate to the existing licensees and the impact the new class of licenses it would have on those establishment owners.  “Any kind of liquor-license reform would have to come with some sort of compensation to existing licensees, acknowledging the investment that they put in,” said Marilou Halvorsen, President of the New Jersey Restaurant Association.

Jacobs said the proposed legislation addresses that issue.

For the complete article, see Northjersey.com’s December 23, 2014 article entitled, “N.J. Liquor-License reforming brewing for New Year.”  http://www.northjersey.com/news/business/n-j-liquor-license-reform-brewing-for-new-year-1.1174900

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