Beach Haven Council members unanimously voted against an application to expand The Ketch’s liquor license across the street to The Boathouse on Dock Road. Just before voting at the public meeting, on Wednesday, Feb. 17, council presented a formal resolution rejecting the request.
|Photo by Ryan MorrillBeach Haven Council members voted against|
the liquor license expansion to The Boathosue.
The general consensus of council was that approving the license expansion would have given developer William Burris and his partners “an unfair advantage” that could have been detrimental to the existing establishments in the area that compete for the same customers during a short season.
If the expansion had been approved, it would have allowed The Ketch and The Boathouse to operate as one full-time entity. Burris had plans to purchase both locations this coming November. He no longer plans to buy The Ketch. But he is purchasing The Boathouse, which will become the new Black Whale Bar & Fish House and run by his partners, the local Nugent and Magaziner families. The Black Whale’s current building will be torn down.
“We’re buying The Boathouse, and we’re going to close The Black Whale and take the license from The Black Whale to The Boathouse. So everything that everybody stood up and talked about is going to happen anyway,” Burris stated after the meeting. “The Boathouse is going to have a liquor license. The Ketch is going to have a liquor license. The only difference is The Ketch is going to be run by Mike Battista the way he’s been running it. You’re going to still have your teen nights.”
Burris said he is “frustrated” by the denial of the project, especially considering the quality of life issues that stem from The Ketch, which he had planned to diminish.
Based on the testimony at a Feb. 8 hearing (which was held after council received four letters from people who disapproved of the plan) as well as reports from the local police and first aid squad, Councilman Don Kakstis said, the history of The Ketch has been a strain on municipal resources. In the last two years, the police have responded to dozens of calls at the location from theft and simple assault to liquor violations and disorderly conduct, according to the council’s resolution.
“One can’t help but question, ‘So what?’ Michael Battista won’t be running the new business,” Burris stated. ”I am licensed along with Eric Magaziner and Robert Nugent. It should have been our experience the expansion was based on, as it was requested the permitted transfer be in November when we do a change in corporate structure to acquire the stock of The Ketch, and close on the acquisition of The Boathouse we currently have under contract. What license history do we have? Look very hard because my guess is nothing.”
Burris had hoped to turn The Ketch and The Boathouse into “an extraordinary wedding venue” that would operate throughout summer as well as the shoulder seasons.
“My partners have clearly demonstrated their ability to stretch the season at their mainland compound (Mud City Crab House and The Old Causeway Steak & Oyster House),” Burris said.
An ordinance limiting the number of tents in the residential area was recently introduced by council, which Burris said his idea of creating a significant wedding venue played into.
The plan had originally also included the creation of a “maritime village” along the bay, an idea Burris has had for 10 years, which would also include saving Surflight Theatre. But those ideas have been withdrawn.
During a presentation to council this past November, the applicant suggested adding a bridge connecting The Ketch and The Boathouse. Closing Dock Road to vehicular traffic was discussed as well, though Burris’ attorney George Gilmore later said Burris never intended to vacate the area. The road, which is often traveled by pedestrians, bicyclists and motor vehicles in the summer, leads to a community parking lot where municipal boat slips and public fishing areas are often accessed.
“We’re simply just really hoping that you will give us an opportunity,” Jean Cipriani, the attorney covering for Gilmore on Wednesday, stated to council prior to the voting.
Cipriani said Burris and his partners were willing to accept any conditions on the license that council felt the need to impose.
“We fully believe that, if we’re given the opportunity to proceed, that we’ll be able to show that it is a benefit to the community,” Cipriani stated. “Simply by allowing it, there are certain existing situations, like the teen nights, that would immediately be able to be stopped. You do not lose your power to control the activities and to control the license by giving us that opportunity.”
If the project were approved, she said, council could enact additional conditions and even revoke the expansion in the future.
“There are a lot of opportunities that you have if we don’t come through with what we’ve guaranteed and (that) are not a benefit to the community,” Cipriani stated.
At the Feb. 8 hearing, some concerned citizens said they believed the expansion would serve only the applicant and not the town.
Councilman Robert Keeler, who told the public on Wednesday that council did not have any discussion concerning the application since the hearing, noted Burris has done “some great things” for the area in the past and is a “very forward thinker.” Keeler said he is supportive of anybody who wants to benefit the town.
“Regardless of how much money they can make, if the town benefits, too, I think that’s a plus for everybody,” he stated.
But looking at the situation objectively, after talking to some of the town’s citizens and business owners, he said, he felt many thought the idea “went a little far” and were uncomfortable having the liquor license granted to two buildings.
Mayor Nancy Taggart Davis said she had put a lot of thought into the application, from introducing “strict conditions” to not supporting it at all, but ultimately believed it would give “an awful lot” to the applicant.
Councilman Charles Maschal added that enforcing any conditions of the license could be “very difficult.”
“I think that our police have done a good job of doing that before, but I see it as problematic,” he stated.
Kakstis said that, based upon the size of the community being less than a mile and having no increase in population, the borough has more than a sufficient number of establishments with a liquor license, including seven plenary retail consumption liquor licenses, one club license and two plenary retail distribution licenses.
The public weighed in on the outcome following council’s decision.
Beach Haven native Gene Pharo, who had strongly opposed the project from the start, thanked the council “for listening to the people of Beach Haven” by denying the application.
“I think you stopped a very dangerous precedent,” he said.
Barb Cona, former executive director of Beach Haven Future, who had been in favor of the project, said she is thankful to live in a community where people can have “open, respectful conversation” on both sides of an issue. But she is “concerned deeply” about the business district’s many vacant storefronts.
“I know that there’s no easy solution to this, but, as a town, I would like to be able to pull together and brainstorm and see what we can do to give people a leg up and not throw roadblocks in the way of people doing business,” she stated. “I’m not suggesting that that’s what’s currently happening at all, but a lot of times people feel as though it’s not worth it to try to open up a new store or pursue a new idea or their dreams. I’m just concerned about more and more empty storefronts, and I don’t see builders or people lining up to take the risk to start a new business.”
Resident John Harvey, who had pushed Burris as well as council for solid information regarding the project’s benefit to the municipality, felt the overall process was symbolic of a larger town issue, which he said is the lack of a master plan.
“The fact that we have to make those decisions on an individual request is not the way to define the future that we want to have,” Harvey stated. “I would encourage (the council) to really take a step back this year, and if there’s a master plan, dust it off. I think Mr. Burris could be a partner with some other developers and bring that to fruition. He is a visionary,” he added.
— Kelley Anne Essinger
This article was published in The SandPaper.
This article was published in The SandPaper.