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Martell’s Waters Edge, LLC v. Governing Body of the Township of Berkeley

A-2743-06T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008) (Unpublished)

LIQUOR LICENSES; ORDINANCES; NOISE — New Jersey’s noise control statutes do not preempt the police powers of a municipality or of an alcoholic beverages authority from imposing noise-related conditions on a liquor licensee.

A restaurant that served alcoholic beverages had an outdoor deck that extended into a bay. There was a residential neighborhood north and northeast of the restaurant. Live music was performed on the deck during the summer months. The liquor license restricted the playing of live music past 10:00 p.m. on weeknights and past midnight on Saturday and Sunday nights. The restaurant’s ownership had changed during the years that the live music was being performed on the deck. After the newest owner took over, it installed sound barriers around the bandstand and purchased some of the surrounding property to reduce the impact of the live music on its neighbors.

The restaurant sought to amend its liquor license to allow it to have live music until midnight every night, including weeknights. The municipal committee was initially receptive to the restaurant’s request but, following testimony of five neighbors, the committee referred the matter to the entire municipal council for a hearing. At the hearing, the restaurant’s manager pointed out that the restaurant had taken steps to reduce the noise and presented the testimony of a noise expert who testified that the noise emanating from the restaurant were within legal limits. The neighbors testified that allowing live music until midnight on weeknights would disturb their peaceful enjoyment and also would negatively affect those who needed to wake up early on weekday mornings for work.

The municipal council denied the liquor license amendment. The restaurant then sought an administrative review of the council’s rejection of its request. At the administrative hearing, a decision was issued upholding the board’s denial. The administrative decision noted that the interference with peaceful enjoyment and the need for residents to wake up early for work on weekday mornings justified the council’s denial and that the council’s finding was in the interest of public health and general welfare. The administrative decision also noted that the nearby residents had developed an expectation that the music would end at 10:00 p.m. on weeknights.

The restaurant appealed. The Appellate Division noted that the standard for overturning an administrative decision is whether it was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. In this case, it found that the restaurant incorrectly relied on the fact that it had not previously been found in violation of the municipality’s noise ordinances. The Court also held that state noise control statutes do not preempt the police powers of a municipality or of an alcoholic beverages authority from imposing noise-related conditions on a liquor license. It held that there was a difference between music played occasionally by a social host and that of a bar that houses live music on a regular basis. Therefore, it upheld the municipal council’s denial of the restaurant’s amendment request.

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