Moorestown repeals liquor ban

Posted: November 09, 2011

After months of heated debate, Moorestown voters decisively approved a proposal to allow restaurants at Moorestown Mall to sell liquor in the historically dry community.

The affluent Burlington County town had forbidden liquor sales for nearly 100 years. Voters had rejected three similar ballot questions.

This time, when the struggling mall became the focus, voters decided it was time for a change. Mall owner Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT) had campaigned to convince voters that "fine dining" restaurants with liquor licenses would stimulate business and boost tax revenues.

"We're tremendously pleased with the results and thankful to the people of Moorestown for embracing fine dining at the mall," said Chris Russell, a public relations consultant hired by PREIT.

He said the mall has plans to open four new restaurants that serve liquor and a 12-theater multiplex.

"We want to get going right away," Russell said.

Voters in the community of 19,000 people were asked two questions: whether to permit liquor sales, and then whether to restrict the sales to mall restaurants.

Unofficial tallies show the vote on the first question was 4,138 to 2,740, and on the second, 3,750 to 2,876.

Maryann Fallows, who led the opposition, was skeptical of PREIT's promises. "I will be anxiously awaiting my tax rebates," she said.

Noting that PREIT is appealing its tax assessment, Fallows, a Realtor, said she doubted that PREIT would pay more in taxes if the value of the mall increased.

"We were out-glossied," Fallows said, referring to PREIT's mail campaign and public presentations.

In 2007, voters rejected a similar question by a nearly 2-1 ratio.

Russell said that this year, "the challenging economic and fiscal times facing everyone" made a difference. PREIT has promised to pay $4 million for four liquor licenses and to pay an estimated $500,000 to $650,000 in additional taxes in the first few years.

Recognizing that many residents oppose liquor sales in the quiet and quaint downtown, PREIT also hired a lawyer and took steps to make sure that only restaurants at the mall would be able to sell liquor.

"The difference between this time and last time was that people felt confident that Main Street was not going to be touched. And that was a key point," Russell said.

Bill Stone, a 64-year-old bank retiree, said he voted "yes" because "it's important to the economic climate at the Moorestown Mall." He doubted it would hurt the town's character.

In another local question, Chesilhurst voters rejected a proposal to reopen the town's elementary school, which closed in 2009. They decided to continue busing their children to neighboring Winslow Township.

Some parents had said they preferred educating their children in their own small school, but many said the town doesn't have money to maintain it.


Contact staff writer Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224 or jhefler@phillynews.com.

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