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Middle considers how much is enough for a liquor license

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Mayor Tim Donohue, shown at the Monday, June 3 Township Committee meeting, said township officials are taking a closer look at the minimum bid for a new liquor license after residents raised concerns.

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — In a unanimous vote and without discussion, Middle Township Committee renewed the alcoholic beverage licenses for five bars and restaurants on Monday, June 3.

The vote was routine. The businesses had paid the $720 local fee and were up to date on their state fees. There had been no objections filed.

There was no mention made at the meeting of plans to add a sixth license allowing beer, wine, liquor and mixed drinks to be consumed on premise.

That idea has been under discussion since last year, when Middle Township officials announced that the town’s population had grown enough to allow an additional license under state rules. This spring, Mayor Timothy Donohue said the township wanted to move slowly and carefully before putting seeking bids on the new license.

It has been 20 years since the last time the township sought bids on a license, a distribution license that went to the Acme Markets location in the township. It’s been even longer since a new consumption license became available.

Since then, the township and the region have seen a boom in wineries and breweries that sell their product on site, Donohue said at the April 15 workshop meeting.

Also, plans have been unveiled for a new 100-room hotel off the Garden State Parkway in the township, where a bar is planned under a state license.

Still, Middle Township seemed ready to launch the bidding process, with a resolution on the agenda for the May 20 meeting for the public sale of one plenary retail consumption license. The resolution set the minimum bid at $600,000, based on a license bid completed in Lower Township, the most recent sale of a license in Cape May County.

That’s not nearly enough, some residents believe.

Rio Grande resident Mike Voll asked Township Committee to set the minimum at $1 million. Voll served on committee for 18 years, including 16 years as Middle Township’s mayor. In that time, he served as both a Democrat and a Republican.

At previous meetings, Voll said he believes the township already has enough licenses. He reiterated that position in a recent interview.

“There’s plenty right now,” he said. Residents and visitors have a number of options to dine out or get a beer or a glass of wine. The higher minimum bid would bring in more revenue to the township and help preserve the value of the existing licenses. “I think the million is a win-win.”

Current license holders have expressed concern about the proposal for a new license, including the possibility that the sale could reduce the market value of their licenses, which can be traded and sold on the open market.

Voll said on Tuesday that he did not speak on behalf of any license holder but was expressing his opinion as a private citizen. He believes the right investor may spend $1 million on a license for a new restaurant. Voll, who left office in 1999, said the last license sold while he was mayor went for about $600,000.

Committee members agreed to table the resolution at the May 20 meeting to consider increasing the minimum bid. In an interview after the meeting, Donohue said the resolution will likely come back for a vote either at the June 17 meeting or on July 1. Both are set for 6 p.m. at Township Hall, 33 Mechanic St. in the Cape May Court House section of the township.

He said township officials are still in the process of establishing the right number for a minimum bid.

“We’re trying to finalize the sweet spot,” he said. “We’re going to broaden our research a little bit.”

The township also has two distribution licenses, for Acme Markets and Joe Canal’s Discount Liquors, and three club licenses. These were also renewed on Monday in the same vote.

The current retail consumption licenses in the township include Rio Station, Avalon Golf. Inc., The Bellevue Tavern, 9 South Bar and Restaurant and Menz Restaurant.

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