CAPE MAY — It turns out that two votes by city council were enough to approve a complicated liquor license transfer that will allow liquor to be sold at the Southern Mansion.
With one member absent and Mayor Zack Mullock abstaining, the Cape May City Council voted Aug. 2 on the license transfer, with two votes in favor and one against. At the meeting, City Attorney Christopher Gillin-Schwartz said the resolution needed three votes, a majority on the five-member council, to pass.
He was convinced otherwise. Marcus Karavan, an attorney representing the plaintiff, sent a letter to the city and Gillin-Schwartz after the vote, citing precedent that the liquor license transfer voting rules are different from other city council decisions. .
Karavan argued that in this case, the city council was functioning as the local issuing authority for the state’s liquor control division, citing a 1951 court case in support of its position. In a response sent Friday, Gillin-Schwartz said he checked with CBA officials and the deputy attorney general, who confirmed that if there is a quorum at a meeting and a majority of that quorum votes in favor, that is sufficient for approval regardless of requirements under state law for a majority of all members.
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“This is an esoteric and very narrow exception,” Gillin-Schwartz explained when describing the issue Monday morning. Since the notice comes from the ABC, which would hear any appeal of the decision, Gillin-Schwartz suggested it would be a waste of the city’s time and resources to fight the license transfer now.
His letter to Karavan confirmed that the vote on the license transfer would be recorded as an approval, but added that the conditions imposed on the license by the city council still apply.
Karavan said on Monday he understood the license transfer was now approved, retroactive to last week’s vote.
At the Aug. 2 meeting, Karavan said his clients had agreed to several terms aimed at reducing the potential impact on neighbors.
As approved, the license will allow a new limited liability company to sell alcohol in a leased area inside the Southern Mansion on Washington Street. Under the agreed terms, the LLC will only serve alcohol to guests staying at the inn or people attending events, most commonly weddings.
The license was held by The Merion Inn on Decatur Street and became available when the building was purchased by owners of the Mad Batter on Jackson, according to Mullock, who said in an interview last week that the two businesses, adjoining the , are now operating under a single license.
But state laws prevent the Southern Mansion from acquiring the license because owner Barbara Wilde also owns Willow Creek Winery in West Cape May, Mullock said. State law prohibits someone from simultaneously holding two types of licenses to sell alcohol, in this case a winery farm license and a full license.
His daughter, Hamilton Wilde, founded the New Jersey Farmers Cooperative Group LLC, taking the name of a nonprofit organization of which Barbara Wilde is the director.
Documentation provided to the city council indicates that the South Mansion is owned by the Bray Family Partnership, in which Hamilton Wilde has no ownership stake, while Barbara Wilde has no ownership or stake in the New Jersey Farmers Cooperative Group LLC.
A new vote will not take place, according to Gillin-Schwartz.
It is possible that a second vote does not take place in the same direction as the first. City council member Stacy Sheehan had expressed concerns about the planned transfer, but was unable to attend the latest meeting. Other members suggested that with Sheehan at the meeting, the vote likely would have been two to two, with one abstention.
Mullock had said at the meeting, and afterwards, that South Manor had done a good job of listening to neighbors and communicating the plan. He says he abstained because he is a neighbor of the property.
Several neighbors spoke at the August 2 meeting, with some opposing the license transfer. Council member Michael Yeager said the proposal could be an improvement, with trained bartenders at weddings and convenience for guests when there isn’t an event going on.
According to the inn’s website, the Southern Mansion at 720 Washington St. was built in 1863 as a private home, then used as a boarding house before falling into disrepair. The current owners began extensive renovations in 1994, and the project was completed in 1997.
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