James and Paul LoBiondo, owners of Surfrider Beach Club, flank attorney Thomas Hirsch Tuesday night as the council deliberates approving a liquor license transfer to the club. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)
By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
A liquor license transfer from a defunct restaurant to a Sea Bright councilman’s family business reignited a long-simmering feud Tuesday night as the two sides exchanged barbs about greed and hatemongering.
In the end, Surfrider Beach Club, owned by Councilman James LoBiondo’s family, walked away with approval by the council minus his own vote to transfer the liquor license from Gaiters restaurant to the beach club. But the move raised fears among neighbors that it will cause an increase in traffic and, as one business owner and nearby resident said, “opens some very nasty doors.”
Surfrider, which bought the now-closed restaurant’s liquor license within the last month for an undisclosed price, has been owned by the LoBiondo family for 26 years and has never held a license to sell alcohol, although club members and banquet guests have always been allowed to bring alcohol on-site.
Janice DeMarco, who was involved in long and complex litigation against the club that went to the state Supreme Court, said the elder James LoBiondo applied for a liquor license a couple of years ago but it was denied, and said the council should do so again. Her fear is that the sale of alcohol on premises would create an unsafe atmosphere in the neighborhood as well as drive traffic up on Ocean Avenue, where she lives and Surfrider is located.
When the LoBiondos bought Surfrider, it was strictly a beach club. In 1992, the family gained approval to operate a banquet hall there, and DeMarco said obtaining a liquor license is a money grab by the family.
“I don’t know how many bites at the same apple you’re going to give this gentleman,” DeMarco said. “We’re just going to keep coming back and coming back and coming back until he gets what he wants. You don’t care about the neighbors at all.”
Ocean Avenue resident Edward Wheeler argued that while the application for the license contained restrictions alcohol can only be served to club members and banquet guests, and the club must stop selling alcohol at 11 p.m. the LoBiondos will be back to try to loosen the restrictions so they can line their pockets.
“I can guarantee you, this time next year he’ll be back” asking that the public restriction should be lifted, Wheeler said of LoBiondo.
Michael Chimento, who lives near Surfrider and with his family operates the Sands Beach Club, didn’t share the concern that Surfrider would draw a new, rowdy customer base, but said the addition of a liquor license could open the door to “situational consumption.” A club member who brings a six-pack and finishes it off is more inclined to move on to Margaritas at the bar, he said.
“They can indulge more frequently, more easily, more intensely,” he said. “You are introducing an issue of greater intensity.”
Surfrider’s attorney, Thomas Hirsch, said the issues the objectors raised were moot. The club is not expanding its operation, he said. It’s simply offering another service, and yes, it will turn a profit, but then again, it is a business.
“This is a business in a business zone. Let’s not forget that,” Hirsch said. “None of these arguments really hold water.”
Councilman LoBiondo recused himself from the discussion to avoid a conflict of interest, and declined to talk to reporters about it after the meeting.
His father who goes by James Sr., while the son identifies himself as James III had terse words for some of the critics, and specifically pointed out that his beach club won the Supreme Court case involving DeMarco and her mother, Grace Schwartz. He also said in the 25 years he’s owned the club, there are no significant incidents on record with the police department.
“We have a perfectly run family business,” he said. “They’re hatemongers and we just choose to go on about our lives and not hate.”