The battle between West New York restaurant Son Cubano and the residents of the nearby Grandview Residences over alleged noise disturbances appears to be moving forward after being mired in litigation for more than a year.
Last December the town passed an ordinance that required any restaurant with a liquor license within 100 feet of a residence or condo within the “Controlled Waterfront Development District” to close by 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and midnight Friday and Saturday.
The only restaurant the law affects is Son Cubano. The business normally stays open until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and has live music and dancing, which has been a source of complaints from residents of the nearby waterfront luxury buildings.
Mayor Felix Roque agreed with the residents and championed the ordinance. But after it was passed, the restaurant and its landlord filed suit against the town of West New York and Grandview.
“West New York is not two towns; it is one.” – Gilberto Garcia
During a status conference held June 12 at the Hudson County Courthouse in Jersey City, West New York town attorney Gilberto Garcia announced that he had advised Roque and Commissioner Caridad Rodriguez to repeal the ordinance based on his opinion that it was unconstitutional, as it only applied to one section of the town.
During the commissioners meeting held on June 20, the repeal ordinance was introduced and will be up for public hearing and a final vote on July 18.
If the ordinance is in fact rescinded at that time, “the case is over,” Judge Peter Bariso said during the conference.
Constitutionality of the original ordinance
Roque said last week that after speaking with Garcia, he realized the ordinance wasn’t necessarily fair.
“We have to treat everybody fairly and justly because we all deserve the same opportunities,” Roque said. “I’m the mayor for the whole town, not just a select group of people, and I have to work with everybody. Why expose taxpayers to more litigation expenses if we don’t have to?”
“West New York is not two towns; it is one,” Garcia said before the conference. He added, “Why aren’t residents on Bergenline Avenue as deserving as those by the riverfront? All residents deserve the same respect. It’s all or nothing.”
Grandview resident and practicing attorney Doug Richards believes that the original ordinance was not, in fact, unconstitutional.
"As the U.S. Supreme Court said this month in [another] case, all the town needed to do to have the ordinance upheld was to offer a rational basis for it,” he stated. “Judge Bariso would have upheld the ordinance if the town attorney had made any effort to defend it. Instead, the town attorney chose to abandon legitimate interests of town residents and to cultivate powerful corporate interests instead, by seeking to repeal the town's own ordinance."
Civil action against the town
In May, Grandview resident and town Board of Education trustee Christine Piscitelli filed a lawsuit against Son Cubano’s landlords, Port Imperial North Retail, L.L.C., alleging that Son Cubano promised the Grandview Condominium Board that it would function as a restaurant and not a nightclub. (A nightclub tends to have later hours of operation than a restaurant and has musical entertainment). According to the lawsuit, the town ABC board granted a liquor license based on this promise.
Piscitelli also filed a lawsuit against the town and its ABC board alleging the board issued a notice of a special meeting that was misleading to the public and in doing so violated the state’s Open Public Meetings Act.
The lawsuit alleges that while the notice stated that the meeting would not address pending noise complaints, Son Cubano submitted a plea which “included a dismissal of all other current pending noise complaints and any noise events which occurred.”
The problem with this, the suit states, is that the public would have been present for the meeting had they known this were to occur.
Calls placed to the ABC board were not returned by press time. Emails placed to the organizers of the website representing the Grandview residents were unsuccessful by press time. Grandview I and II’s attorney John O’Donnell stated it was his policy not to speak to the press.
If the ordinance is repealed
The new ordinance, if approved, would mark a major break for restaurant co-owner Alex Duran, as the limitations set by the original ordinance would cut severely into his profits, he said.
“I was about to lose everything; I never exaggerated about that,” Duran said. “My new concern is the ABC Board because the renewal of our liquor license is in their hands.”
“I’ve spent so much time and money on litigation,” Duran explained. “I prayed every night something positive would happen and I became literally sick over it. I have tried my hardest to work with the condo association, but they won’t be happy until they see us closed down.”
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org