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Vintage ‘Mini-Liquor Zone’ May Be Squeezed by Wines 5.24.2006

By Christine Cote

STONE HARBOR — Should the borough change its long-held policy of allowing restaurants on only limited portions of 96th Street and Third Avenue to sell alcohol?
Or should council simply move that restriction from its zoning ordinances and put it somewhere else in the code book?
Those were questions raised at council’s May 16 meeting by attorney Vincent Lamanna on behalf of the O’Hara Family Limited Partnership.
After a good deal of discussion, on a motion by Councilman Julian Miraglia, council directed the planning board to consider an amendment which would remove the restriction on the sale of liquor from the borough’s land use law.
The planning board is already studying whether “farm winery” licenses should be allowed in non-licensed establishments and that prompted a discussion as well and some confusion.
Mayor Suzanne Walters explained that the planning board would be hearing a presentation from a winery and a restaurant that have this arrangement at its next meeting.
Miraglia said he wanted the issue resolved, it was discussed “for five years because I was on the planning board then. I believe this should move and not wait for another season.”
Walters asked what Miraglia wanted the planning board to do, consider the attack on the ordinance or the wine license?
Michael Donohue, borough solicitor, said he would write an opinion on the ordinance issue but would also appreciate the planning board attorney’s input. He also explained that it is the state, not the borough, that issues the winery licenses.
Donohue told council it was at its discretion to decide where liquor should be sold, but the question should be addressed as to whether it was a zoning issue.
Lamanna maintained that it was not a land use issue, but also told council that the creation of this “mini-liquor zone” is “ripe for legal challenge” because it is discriminatory and violates both state and federal constitutions.
Council President Barry Mastrangelo disagreed that the wine license issue has been around for five years.
“I think the planning board decided we would not issue wine licenses outside the district,” he said, referring to the limited area where liquor sales are allowed.
Walters said she thought it had been before the planning board three times.
When Miraglia again insisted the issue needed to be resolved, she said, “You’re right the planning board has been asking questions and not getting answers.”
He would like to see the planning board make a decision this month “before the season, so someone can use it,” Miraglia said.
Walters said, based on “what we learned last month,” a license could not be issued this year.
Lamanna told council that if council directs the planning board to review an ordinance it must respond within 35 days.
A discussion ensued on whether council had to introduce an ordinance on first reading, before directing it to the planning board for review and triggering the 35-day period.
Although he said that was the usual course, Donohue said it was not legally required to do so.
Only Mastrangelo voted against Miraglia’s motion to place Lamanna’s proposed amendment, which eliminates the liquor license zone in a small area within the borough, before the planning board for review.
Contact Cote at (609) 886-8600 Ext 31 or: ccote@cmcherald.com

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