Several mixed-use developments, with almost 1,000 residential units, are proposed along Hackensack's Main Street, but some redevelopment proponents say city merchants have access to an insufficient number of liquor licenses to attract new businesses to the span.
“Hackensack has a unique problem,” said C.J. Lombardo Co.’s Jerry Lombardo, who also chairs the city’s Main Street Alliance. “We have the shopping centers that surround the town, mostly Riverside Square and there are at least seven, maybe nine, [liquor] licenses over there. So, the available licenses to develop Main Street are not enough to go around.”
Indeed, Hackensack already has reached the cap on the number of liquor licenses allowable for cities of its size under current state law. The proposed solution: The city’s Main Street Alliance persuaded Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-37th District, to sponsor a bill that would allow non-movable, non-transferable liquor permits to be issued along Main Street.
More than 220 units have been added along Main Street in recent years, another 950 are expected to be completed soon and still 400 more have been approved for development thus far.
“You can’t have a place with [at least] 1,500 people and no place to sell alcohol or where you can’t go and have a beer with your lunch,” he said. “Right now, we just don’t have that in Hackensack. Ninety percent of our licenses are at the malls, and there is no other place with licenses to develop the downtown.”
Lombardo is optimistic that Johnson’s bill will find broad support in the state legislature.
“The state has been pushing ‘smart growth’ for the last 10 to 15 years,” he said. “In fact, we won an award for our smart growth plan for the downtown. So, we’re doing what we think is right, but we need some more tools in the toolbox.
“Everybody wants us to create housing, so we’re saying that for every 100 units of housing we create, we would be entitled to one permit to sell alcohol within that block. In other words, if one block does 200 units there, they would have the ability for two permits.”
The bill would allow second-class cities with more than 40,000 residents and fewer than 49,000, situated in first-class counties, to be eligible for the program. The parameters were written in to make the bill applicable to Hackensack, and likely only Hackensack.
“Everything in [the bill] is negotiable,” Lombardo stressed. “Somebody said it should be 200 units, but we are just looking for a little relief to get our downtown going. We like the idea of tying [liquor permits] to the creation of housing because if you create housing, you should be able to be rewarded for it, so you can get an ambiance.”
Permits cannot be issued outside of redevelopment zones and they cannot be transferred nor sold. The Alliance also proposes to restrict the operator of the permit to on-site consumption and open bottle only – this would limit the operator to a restaurant or a bar.
Each permit would cost $25,000 for the first year and $15,000 for each year after.
“The bulk of that money will be distributed to the existing license holders because we respect the license holders that are already there,” Lombardo said. “Even for the existing license holders, if we can create the kind of activity that we think this will create, all the boats will go up when the tide goes up. And their licenses will be worth even more because they can be bought and they can be moved.”
The Alliance-drawn bill has been assigned to the state Assembly’s Oversight, Reform and Federal Relations committee for consideration.