A Doylestown attorney has asked borough council to reconsider its recent denial of a new liquor license for a club to replace the Moose Lodge.
Bill Bolla has petitioned Doylestown Borough Council, asking it to reconsider a request to transfer a liquor license from Bristol Borough to Doylestown.
Matthew Bender applied for the license transfer. He planned to use it to open a bar and restaurant in the Moose Lodge building at 127 E. State St. Bender is the son in law of the building's owners, Bob and Mary Ellen Walton.
A hearing on Aug. 20 on the license transfer packed borough council chambers with people supporting Bender's application and neighbors of the Moose lodge opposed to it.
The bar and restaurant would not be open to the general public, Bender said during the hearing. Instead, it would serve a new private, nonprofit club called the Standard Club. The building's lease with the Moose lodge would be terminated, Bob Walton said that night.
After the hour and a half hearing, borough council members recessed briefly before voting unanimously to deny the license transfer.
Bolla said the Waltons are being treated unfairly.
"Council's recent unanimous denial of this request, after a five (5) minute deliberation, is, in my humble opinion, a travesty and injustice to Bob and Mary Ellen Walton and their family, who have done nothing but improve the building and property, as well as the situation in the neighborhood, since they acquired ownership of it two (2) years ago," Bolla said Friday in an email to Doylestown Patch. "In return, they have been treated with disdain and disrespect by Borough Officials."
Borough Council president Det Ansinn disputes that claim.
"They had a chance to present a coherent plan and details of that plan, and they did not accomplish that," Ansinn said. "They didn’t provide even basic details that this was even an established club, let alone a business plan or by-laws. I struggle to think of an applicant in recent memory who was as ill-prepared."
Bolla's petition argues that borough council's denial of the transfer was based on complaints from neighbors of the Moose Lodge about loud music and drunken behavior from people attending functions at the lodge building in the past.
The petition acknowledges that the Moose had issues in the past but says they ended when the Waltons bought the building in 2009.
"Prior to acquisition of the property, the Moose Club had operated in an uncontrolled and offensive fashion. It had accomodated loud concerts catering to and targeting a teenage and young adult audience," the petition reads. "That activity ceased on the day that the facility was purchased" by 127 Investments, the Waltons' company.
Those "generalized fears of the impact of the liquor license on the community" are not grounds for a municipality to deny a license, the attorney argued.
But David Conn, the borough solicitor, said that wasn't why council members voted to deny the transfer. He is still drafting the "findings of fact" which outline the council's reasons for rejecting the transfer. They will be ready, and a final vote will be taken on the issue, at the council's Sept. 24 meeting, Conn said.
"Bill made a bunch of assumptions about council’s motives that are not accurate," Conn said.
Ansinn said he voted against the transfer for several reasons.
"Everyone appreciates the history around the Moose," Ansinn said. "If something else is going to go there, they needed to provide us with clear details on what that would be and how it would operate. They failed to do that.
"Then there’s the idea that we’re adding yet another liquor license to town," Ansinn continued. "By any measure, we have plenty of liquor licenses in Doylestown Borough. And there was no detail on what the Moose would do with its current liquor license."
If a council member wants to request another hearing on they transfer, he or she could make a motion to do so at the Sept. 24 council meeting, Conn said.
But if no one makes that motion, it's the end of the issue, he said.
Before 2006, an applicant could appeal a denial to the Court of Common Pleas, Conn said. But in 2006, that legal standard and the right to appeal was removed from the law, he said.
"Now there is, explicitly, no right to appeal," Conn said. "Borough council has the final say."
The September 24 council meeting starts at 7 p.m. in council chambers at Borough Hall. The public is encouraged to attend.
To read the full petition for reconsideration, click on the pdf file attached to this story.