Moorestown gives microbreweries, distilleries a shot

Council approves zoning change at May 10 meeting.

If you’re ready to say  “cheers” to vaccinations, low COVID case counts and a possible return to “normalcy,” you may be able to toast at a Moorestown establishment.

Township council approved an ordinance on May 10 that changes the zoning of certain areas in town to allow for breweries, distilleries and wineries. Council also set the bidding price for two packaged good licenses that allow for distribution of alcoholic beverages.

“We are at a point where we need to find creative ways to increase revenue to the township,” said Councilman David Zipin. 

He stressed that a synergy takes place among microbreweries, distilleries and wineries and local restaurants. Because breweries can’t serve food, people tend to order meals from nearby restaurants, and the local businesses tend to go hand-in-hand.

During public comments, resident Mark Hines highlighted the advantages of bringing breweries to town, including job creation, increased tax revenues and  foot traffic in commercial districts. 

“Microbreweries are going to be very popular in Moorestown,” Hines noted.

Council also used its meeting as an opportunity to discuss how the township will proceed with issuing packaged good distribution licenses. Township Solicitor Kevin Aberant explained the township has two options as it offers two licenses for bid: the public-sale method or the historical method. The first entitles the highest bidder to the license and the second allows the township to get more information from bidders, such as potential locations and intended use.

“That would give the council a better opportunity to evaluate how this proposed licensee would fit into the community,” Aberant said of the historical method.

Zipin said there’s nothing in the historical method that precludes going with the highest bidder. He explained that the licenses are fungible goods, and once  released by the township, the license can be transferred to someone else. 

“I think it’s important we have this opportunity to review who might be interested and what they’re looking to do,” Zipin added.

Council agreed to pursue the historic method of bidding. 

In 2012, Township Manager Thomas Merchel set the minimum license bid at $1 million, with a $400,000 good faith deposit. All bidders are required to submit a good faith deposit, and anyone not selected for the license has the deposit returned. 

Mayor Nicole Gillespie said her research indicates $1 million is still an appropriate minimum bidding price, but in order not to preclude smaller businesses from submitting bids, she is in favor of setting the good faith deposit at 25 percent of the total bid. The mayor added that if every bidder is required to submit a good faith deposit, $400,000 may shut out smaller businesses who don’t have that much cash on hand.

Merchel explained that he set the good faith deposit at $400,000 in 2012 because he knew he was selling to the Moorestown Mall and the bidders had sufficient funds. He agreed setting the good faith deposit at that price would preclude smaller businesses from applying. 

“You’re dealing with a different pool of people here, and you want a large pool,” he said.

The remainder of council agreed to set the bid minimum at $1 million, with a 25 percent good faith deposit. Aberant said before council can take any action, the township needs approvals from New Jersey’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control.