By JOHN T. WARD
That possibility appeared to gel into likelihood Monday night on the heels of a builder’s request, backed by a 500-signature petition, asking the borough council to make allowance for a family-style restaurant that serves alcohol.
The request came from Matt Kelly, a 10-year resident who co-owns Kelly Builders. Prompted by Mayor Bob Neff to tell the public what he has in mind, Kelly said that he imagined a family-friendly restaurant similar to Molly Maguire’s Gastropub or Val’s Tavern, both in Rumson – establishments that many Little Silver residents travel to for the kind of atmosphere he’d prefer to see in Little Silver.
“I think it would be good for the social aspect” of life in town, Kelly said.
He cited the west side of the train station as a good location because it doesn’t abut any residential areas, would be accessible to commuters as well as those who work locally, and could help spark rehabilitation of vacant properties on the east side of the tracks.
Kelly hasn’t filed any plans to build a restaurant, and current zoning would bar any that wanted to serve alcohol. If the issuance of the license is approved, officials said, an ordinance allowing for the creation and sale of the license would have to be drafted and approved, and zoning laws would have to be amended. At present, said Neff, no such changes are in the works.
Kelly would also have to compete for it in a public bid, with the proceeds going into the borough’s coffers.
The town of about 6,000 residents hasn’t permitted on-premise drinking at least since the start of Prohibition, with one-day exceptions made for firemen’s fairs and similar events. In or around 1978, voters shot down a referendum that, like Kelly’s proposal, would have permitted a single license to be issued.
Many of the residents who spoke urged the council to hold another referendum.
“In 40 years of living here, [a liquor license] is not something I’ve ever even thought about,” said Jim Appio, of Southvale Avenue. “A referendum would give both sides a chance to make their case.”
Under the borough form of government, the referendum would have to be non-binding, Neff said.
Other concerns voiced had to do with limiting the locations where the license might be used, the hours of operation, and whether a national chain restaurant could be barred from owning the license. Borough Attorney Megan Bennett Clark said the location would have to be permitted by zone, not address, and that the zoning issue should be addressed before a referendum is drafted.
Chain restaurants couldn’t be barred, she said.
Without a formal vote, council members appeared to agree that the referendum approach should be pursued, with a possible ballot question as early as next June, to coincide with primary elections.
“One thing that resonates from both sides is hat a lot of people want a referendum,” said Councilman Dane Mihlon. “That sounds like a really good idea before we get too deep into it.”
“I’m not looking to open a nightclub,” Kelly told redbankgreen after the 40-minute discussion. ” I love this community and I care about it.”