On board for booze sales?

The Moorestown Mall wants to let diners buy drinks through a ballot question that mystifyingly refers to planes, trains, and boats. At the owner's Cherry Hill Mall, Seasons 52 employee Dan Cestare gets wine.
The Moorestown Mall wants to let diners buy drinks through a ballot question that mystifyingly refers to planes, trains, and boats. At the owner's Cherry Hill Mall, Seasons 52 employee Dan Cestare gets wine. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)

Moorestown's not-so-flighty question.

Posted: August 21, 2011

A ballot question in Moorestown has people scratching their heads and chuckling.

The question appears to suggest that residents have a say over whether mojitos can be served on a plane flying thousands of feet above them.

And in trains passing through.

And in boats zipping along Pompeston Creek.

"Shall the sale of all alcoholic beverages at retail, except for consumption on railroad trains, airplanes, and boats, and the issuance of any retail licenses, except as aforesaid . . . be permitted in this municipality?"

The Nov. 8 question is similar to one that residents of the town - dry for nearly 100 years - rejected in 2007, and the wording, some sleuthing reveals, was picked by legal minds in a well-designed ploy.

"What do airplanes have to do with Moorestown?" resident Seth Broder mused when asked about the "railroad trains, airplanes, and boats" part. He seemed surprised even though he leads the group that gathered signatures to put the question on the ballot.

Broder, a former town councilman, is working in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, owner of the Moorestown Mall, which hopes fine restaurants that serve liquor can save the struggling center. PREIT notes that business spiked when it brought upscale, alcohol-serving restaurants to the Cherry Hill Mall.

Broder referred questions about the planes-trains-boat stuff to the Moorestown Mall's attorney, Tony Drollas, a lawyer with the Capehart Scatchard firm. Drollas said the language is spelled out in a 1933 New Jersey law that also prescribes other such templates.

"People may say it's unusual," he offered, "but it may have some historical significance." He chuckled as he spoke.

The law, which regulates alcohol and liquor licenses, was adopted less than a month after Prohibition ended. Chris Russell, who does public relations for Republican state legislators and was hired by the mall to win support for the ballot question, took a stab at explaining it.

"We'd like to have the question be a lot more simple, but that's the language that has to be used," Russell said with a sigh.

On its face, the question seems to bar passengers from imbibing, he agreed. But there's no passenger train service through town, nor is there an airport.

"Part of our campaign will be to explain to the layman what this means," Russell said. "I've read it a million times."

Dave Bregenzer, counsel to the director of the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, also seemed bemused. "I don't really know their intent," he said.

Patty Hunt, the township clerk, offered a different insight: "The law says that you can only have a referendum on this every five years, unless the question is worded differently."

In 2007, Moorestonians overwhelmingly rejected a question that asked simply whether the sale of alcoholic beverages should be allowed. The mall would have to wait one more year before asking voters the same question.

Instead, it inserted the trains-airplanes-boats phrase to give the question new life, something Russell eventually conceded.

Hunt said the transportation lingo was the only thing different from the 2007 wording.


Contact staff writer Jan Hefler

at 856-779-3224 or jhefler@phillynews.com.

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