After a lengthy hearing that gave new meaning to the phrase "standing room only," Doylestown council denied an application to transfer a liquor license into town.
The nine council members voted unanimously Monday evening to deny the request from Matthew Bender to transfer a "club" liquor license from Sons of Italy in America on Wood Street in Bristol Borough.
Bender wanted to transfer the license to 127 E. State St., the current home of the . Working with the building's owner and Moose member Robert Walton, Bender proposed to create a new private club called the Standard Club.
If the transfer had been approved, the existing lease with the Moose Lodge would end, Walton said, and the Standard Club would take over rental of the building.
More than 100 people packed the council chambers at for the hearing, which lasted nearly an hour and a half.
Bender, a Doylestown native who returned home from running a restaurant in Portland, Ore., said he wanted to start a new club to replace the Moose.
"The Moose Lodge is a wonderful place and houses a great number of members of our community," Bender said, adding that he would like to "refine some things and establish ourselves more as a food environment."
The Standard Club has been in existence for two years and has about 30 members, Bender said. It does not have nonprofit status yet, he said, but is in the process of applying for it.
Membership costs $50 a year, Bender said. The club would like to choose a local charity or nonprofit each year for which to raise money, he said.
But council members and neighbors of the Moose who opposed the transfer had a litany of questions about what would happen to the Moose's existing liquor license, how many members the new club would have and how it would make money, if not by opening its doors to the general public.
"There’s just so much money that can be made from food and liquor sales," said council member Joan Doyle. "I’m still not quite sure how you fundraise and how you’ll give back to the community and at what level."
Several neighbors stood to tell council about the litany of problems they say they already experience with the Moose Lodge, from music so loud it shakes their windows to drunk couples engaging in sexual encounters in their cars and even in residents' backyards.
Transferring in a second liquor license and starting a new club would be an intensification of use, they said.
"We’re all very fond of Bob Walton. We think he’s a great guy," said Ed Ludwig, who lives on East Court Street. "This is just a problem that we feel very, very strongly about, the nearby residents. We think it would be a terrible mistake to let this be approved."
Flo Smerconish, a Doylestown Realtor, disagreed.
"The Moose was there before all of you," she said. "Get rid of the Moose, bring in the Standard Club. I already have my application in."
Stephen Agrista, who lives directly across from the Moose, said the issue isn't whether Bender or Walton are nice guys, or whether the menu for the club's proposed restaurant looks good.
"The issue is use," said Agrista, who passed out copies of a 28-page packet documenting complaints about loud music, unruly patrons, illegal parking and other issues with the Moose Lodge over the past year.
"You’re taking a large entity and putting it in a neighborhood," Agrista said. "It’s like trying to land a 747 on our Doylestown (Airport) landing strip. You can’t put that kind of operation in a residential neighborhood."
Doylestown Borough solicitor David Conn, who ran the hearing, said the only issue before the council on Monday was the transfer of the liquor license.
"What may be going on at the Moose Lodge right now - there is nothing council can do tonight about that," Conn said. "There are other avenues that we can and do pursue for that."