Round two: Iron Bar in Morristown will try rooftop dining again

If at first you don’t succeed… try another board.

pushed back last year by Morristown Council, the iron bar resumes his pitch for rooftop dining, this time in front of the zoning board and a judge.

Lawyers for the owner of Iron Bar Jimmy Cavanaugh claims he just needs some zoning deviations from council and a reversal of the state’s April 2021 council decision Alcoholic Beverage Control Division (ABC)to proceed with plans to accommodate 134 customers above its South Street establishment.

Well, maybe it’s not that simple.

Cavanaugh’s request was to be heard Wednesday before the zoning board. But on Tuesday, a report from the planner raises a host of questions that will require a longer sitting at a later date.

This last-minute development, after the planner deems the application complete, is “boring,” said Iron Bar’s attorney. Steven Schepis. “The planner found a wrench. So we’ll deal with it.

Revised plan of the Iron Bar roof, during Morristown’s virtual hearing on the Iron Bar expansion, March 29, 2021. Screen capture by Kevin Coughlin

Morristown Green contacted the planner Phil Abramson for comment Tuesday and will update this story as needed.

According to Abramson’s 11-page report, a restaurant’s rooftop terrace is an “unauthorized incidental use,” with a heavy burden on the plaintiff to prove “special reasons” for a deviation – or to prove that ‘undue hardship’ would result without it.

Additionally, the iron bar is expected to explain how its proposal fits with the city’s 2014 and 2018 zoning master plans. And it should address potential negative impacts – such as lighting and noise – for neighbours, the report claims.

Noise concerns played a significant role in the council’s 4-1 vote last year to deny Cavanaugh’s request to extend his liquor license, shared by the Iron Bar and its neighbor. Revolution beer room, for dinner on the roof.

The council regulates local liquor licenses and has received years of complaints from residents about nighttime problems caused by bar crowds.

A battle over curfews in the Revolution has reached the courts.  Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Revolution in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

A landlord of apartments across from the Iron Bar objected to the roof plan. The condos of the 40 Park and The Metropolitan apartments also face the proposed dining room.

The council then adopted a noise ordinance spelling out offenses and enforcement. The iron bar must demonstrate how it intends to comply with this measure, Abramson’s report said.

“It’s like saying we’re not going to give you a car because we think you’re going to speed up. If we break the noise ordinance, they’ll shut the place down. It’s as simple as that,” the attorney said. Robert C. Williams III.

Iron Bar owner Jimmy Cavanaugh and his attorney Robert C. Williams speak after the board's decision.  Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Iron Bar owner Jimmy Cavanaugh, center, and his attorney, Robert C. Williams III, speak after the council’s decision in 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Williams filed the iron bar’s appeal of the board’s decision with the state’s ABC. The division has referred the case to the state Administrative Law Office and a September trial is scheduled, Williams said.

Another point of contention: The Iron Bar’s zoning application mislabeled the venue as a “nightclub/bar” instead of a “licensed liquor restaurant,” according to Abramson.

The distinction may be important in terms of parking: the city’s zoning requires more places for a nightclub (344 in this case) than for a restaurant (276).

The iron bar believes it is on the hook for 276 places and is requesting a waiver of this requirement.

As before, Iron Bar stipulates that rooftop dining will not increase the number of customers at Iron Bar and Revolution. A service area in the basement would be closed until 11 p.m., when the roof would be closed.

The Stirling Tavern, pictured in 2020, added an upstairs bar with a small outdoor patio overlooking South Street. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

In August 2020, the council approved a small rooftop dining area as part of a liquor license extension for the Stirling Tavernon a less populated stretch of South Street.

Williams said demand for the Iron Bar’s rooftop had been spurred by patrons’ desire to dine al fresco during the pandemic. Unlike some establishments in Morristown, the Iron Bar lacked a parking lot to arrange.

Outdoor dining may be one of the legacies of COVID, statewide, Williams suggested. “People really like having the option to be outside when they can,” he said.

The call to the state’s ABC is not the first time that Williams and Cavanaugh, a former Essex County outspoken landlord, have crossed swords with Morristown officials.

In to research and before the ABC they repeatedly overturned curfews imposed on Revolution by the board since 2016. Cavanaugh is also to chase the mayor and the chairman of the council, alleging that they unfairly interfered with his downtown businesses. They denied the allegations.

Pandemic dinner on South Street in Morristown, November 6, 2020. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

About James K. Bonnette

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