Legal challenge arises from Moorestown liquor ordinance

The East Gate Shopping Center — located across the street from the Moorestown Mall — has stepped forward and is challenging the legality of an ordinance passed by the township council that restricts the sale of liquor in Moorestown to only the Moorestown Mall property.

Moorestown voters approved two referendum questions in the November general election. The first was the approval of the sale of liquor licenses within Moorestown and the second was the restriction of those liquor licenses to only be sold to restaurants in the Moorestown Mall.

East Gate, a large retail center, filed a lawsuit claiming the ordinance and the second referendum question unfairly favors the mall property, but does not provide the same opportunity to adjacent owners in the same zoning district.

A statement issued by the Archer and Griener law firm alleges the second referendum question, approved by the township’s voters in November, and now the ordinance adopted by council, is zoning by referendum, which is not permitted by law.

“East Gate’s suit alleges that allowing the sale of alcohol on only one retail property, and not other adjacent retail properties, violates the state’s zoning laws and is unconstitutional. The state zoning laws require uniform zoning regulations for similar properties in the same zoning district. Limiting the privilege of serving alcohol to the mall property constitutes illegal ‘spot zoning’ and violates both the New Jersey and United States Constitutions, which prohibit unequal treatment between similar persons and properties,” the statement reads.

Prior to filing the suit, several Archer and Griener representatives attended the introduction of the liquor ordinance and the public hearing of the liquor ordinance, stating East Gate’s concerns with the restrictions.

Throughout the entire process, Mayor John Button and Township Solicitor Thomas Coleman III have said the referendum questions and the ordinance are lawful and Constitutional.

Coleman said he was disappointed by the filing of the lawsuit at such a late stage in the proceedings.

“This is an incredible waste of taxpayer money. We’ve done an incredible amount of research and think that the provisions are reasonable restrictions to be placed on the liquor licenses. The voters thought this way too or they wouldn’t have adopted the second referendum question,” he said. “It’s disingenuous that now, in April of 2012, some four-and-a-half months after the election, to come forward and to challenge something that should have been challenged back in November or prior to the election.”

Preliminary discussions by both parties have already taken place with the judge of the case.