Montclair Township Council Wraps Up Its “Wild Ride”

The Montclair Township Council of 2008-12 meets for the last time

The 2008-12 Montclair Township Council’s final meeting on June 19 characteristically ended late at night and with heated debate, leaving Township Manager Marc Dashield to declare the township’s eighth Faulkner Act-era council “a wild ride all the way to the end.”

The lengthy meeting ironically featured only one second-reading ordinance and eight resolutions, but the long-awaited hearing on renewing the liquor license on the Park Sports Bar on South Park Street caused the meeting to run over two and  a half hours.  The ordinance and seven resolutions had been passed in the first half hour, but the hearing – and the accompanying resolution to renew liquor licenses for the Park Sports Bar and other Montclair bars – took the rest of the council’s time, with charges and testimony about the bar’s patrons disturbing the peace of nearby apartment tenants with noise, lewd behavior, and drunkenness.  In the end, the council conditionally approved the license renewal for the Park Sports Bar over Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville’s dissenting vote.

Township Attorney Ira Karasick laid out the parameters at the start to Park Sports Bar owner Jeff Melnikoff of Essex Fells.  He told Melnikoff that if the council were inclined to deny his renewal application, he would have to have another hearing as required by law.  With the license expiring on June 30 and the new council not meeting for awhile, Melnikoff’s only recourse would be to get a temporary license from the state.

Siena resident Nancy LeRoy, whose building is across Church Street from the bar, kicked off the hearing with a list of grievances.  “The residents of Church and South Park Street have been complaining for years about the Park Sports Bar and the drunken, rowdy crowds that exit the bar and hang out on that corner partying, fighting, and screaming obscenities between midnight and 2:30 AM,” she said in a statement.  She also hoped to get the township council to address twelve charges brought against Melnikoff by township prosecutor Kenneth Strait, including illegal alcohol sales and marijuana use, but Karasick said that was a separate issue from the liquor license renewal.

Nancy LeRoy testifies in the hearing of grievances against the Park Sports Bar

Following LeRoy’s statement, one resident after another complained about loud music emanating from the bar, drunken patrons wreaking havoc outside their apartments, and even sexual misconduct in the adjacent parking lot and drunk driving in the street.  Kaili Baucum of 45 Church Street, for one, cited the cursing that made it difficult to have her nine-year-old niece over and the overall noise and loud music that rendered her studies for a philosophy doctorate impossible.

Baucum said she moved to Church Street because of the liveliness of the neighborhood, but he added that the bass thumping from the bar that constantly woke her up was a different matter.  “When I had to study for my qualifying exams,” she said of her Ph.D. studies, “I considered renting a hotel room for fear that I would not be able to concentrate.”

When Melnikoff finally took the lectern, he was contrite about the situation, and he offered to make amends, such as lowering the music and communicating more with local residents for a solution.  “I don’t know what to say, I feel bad for all these people,” he said.  “I never knew it was like this.”

LeRoy had noted earlier that police had responded to 94 calls regarding disruption of the peace at Park Sports bar since January 2010, as opposed to thirteen such calls for all the other Montclair bars combined in the same period.

Jenifer Pagnotta-Zusi of Roseland, a bar employee, defended Melnikoff, saying that the bar had been at South Park Street before the Siena opened to tenants.  She said that anyone who purchased a Siena apartment should have known there would be noise, just as she knew there would be heavy traffic on Passaic Avenue, the busy Roseland thoroughfare on which she lives, when she bought her own house.

The council was not short on suggestions for Melnikoff.  Councilor-at-Large Roger Terry suggested that Melnikoff add more security officers and regulate the music, mostly rap music played by DJs after 10 P.M., with a decibel meter.  First Ward Councilor Rich Murnick proposed tougher rules for cleanliness outside the bar in response to complaints of cigarette butts littering the sidewalk.  And Baskerville doubted Melnikoff’s sincerity in the matter.

“When you said that you didn’t know about this, the noise problem, and you didn’t know about these things until recently, I don’t think that that’s sincere, because I certainly know.  This council has known about it for awhile,” she said.

Park Sports Bar owner Jeff Melnikoff

Third Ward Councilor Nick Lewis supported renewing the license with conditions, so long as the council didn’t dictate to Melnikoff how to run his business.  But he added that the new council won’t be able to set conditions if they start from scratch and issue a new license without the previous one having been renewed, so the last meeting of the old council would be only time a license renewal with conditions could happen.

The council added one condition requiring a licensed security officer or an off-duty policeman from 10 P.M. to 2:30 A.M. every night the bar is open, and it was added to the resolution unanimously.  But attempts to add more conditions, including noise regulations and cleanliness standards, got bogged down in cross-talking and failed in voice votes.  The final roll call vote on the resolution to renew the license with the one condition was 6-1, with Baskerville voting no.

Earlier in the evening, an long-tabled ordinance requiring bicycle parking facilities, a pet cause of Mayor Jerry Fried, was considered for bringing up for a vote.  The vote to remove it from the table failed 4-3, with Fried, Lewis, and Deputy Mayor Kathryn Weller-Demming voting yes.

Mayor Fried and the five departing councilors said their final goodbyes at the meeting’s end, and Lewis said he was happy to have served despite the difficulties.  “I’ve learned a frustrating fact that some problems, you just can’t solve, at least on the municipal level,” he said. But, he added, he took pride that “Montclair is held up as a paragon of how a town should be” throughout New Jersey.

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  1. “In the end, the council conditionally approved the license renewal for the Park Sports Bar over Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville’s dissenting vote.” It should be noted that Baskerville votes against EVERY liquor licence EVERY time. No wonder the 4th ward is such a mess, they elected this nut to represent them. Again!

  2. Give me a break sheepy, she’s the only one who called this guy out for acting like a tool in the first place. To act like he didn’t know how bad things were until recently is a total joke, did he not get the memo that the police were called 94 times? There are two sides of the coin when it comes moving to an area where there is a bar nearby. Either you’re smart enough to know and you don’t sign the lease before hand, or you get yourself trapped. I’ve been in this situation myself, so I empathize with the people in Siena.

    I’m glad Councilor Baskerville voted against their license, and I’m proud to have her represent me in the 4th ward.

  3. @ dex. It doesn’t matter what the Sports Bar does. The “Hound of the 4th Ward” has voted against EVERY license. Can you imagine a dry Montclair? Prohibition is what you voted for, thanks. If you voted for and are proud of Baskerville then it comes as no surprise that you have been in this situation before. Enjoy the 4th.

  4. I’m with the Sienna residents – The Park Sports bar is a disgusting pit. Took my family there for dinner last year …never again.

    It’s the Diva Lounge all over again.

  5. Park Bar is exactly what it appears to be – a sports bar for young people, not an upscale, family dining establishment. I don’t understand why people are surprised buy what goes on there. And apparently, none of the complainers were ever young, drunk and stupid themselves. How nice it must be up there on your high horse.
    I just can’t feel sorry for anyone who moves close to a bar and then bitches about the noise. It’s your fault for not exercising due diligence before you bought and/or rented your new place.

    Re: Baskerville
    I’m pretty sure she ran unopposed in the 4th ward, so it’s not like anybody had a choice.

  6. It never dawned on Melnikoff or his bar staff that, during the course of those cited 94 visits by the police, his establishment might have some sort of problem? I mean, if not, then what does it take?

    Some who’ve posted on this matter make it sound as if South Park is some sort of beloved local landmark. Montclair’s very rough equivalent o mcSorley’s, if you will. Well, it’s hardly that. Nor is it all that cool a place to begin with unless one has very, very linited social horizons. So I doubt very much this establishment would be truly missed, if it came to that.

    Question for the Baristas’ crack reporters: whose name is actually on both the license and the CO? And , if available, what did Melnikoff pay for the license and what else does he do for a living.

    Even I find the bit about the noise interfering with someone’s pursuit of a doctorate in philosophy ridiculous, however. Indeed, where better to truly bone up on one’s own philosophy than South Park?

  7. For a town with so many empty store fronts and high taxes it’s really short sighted to start chasing out businesses that pay taxes and have an investment of a liquor license that is worth about 700K. It reminds me of the Dressing For Pleasure torches and pitch forks mob- a business that was famous and brought people into town from all over to spend money. People still ask me about it when they find out I live here.

    Now lets go read the next thread where people will be complaining about the high taxes without having the intelligence to know what these two things have in common.

    BTW when the Sienna condos were for sale and people were touring them the bar was in full throttle. If you were DUMB enough to see a bar across the street from a condo you were considering buying and not come back at night to see what kind of crowd it was then you deserve what you get.

  8. Its an oxy moron to say that Baskerville wants a dry Montclair… she’s a big supporter of Caggiano’s Liquors and the mess that dump brings to the neighborhood… the crime, police activity, drunken bums wandering the streets at noon. I guess that’s her vision of an ideal 4th ward.

  9. The liquor license can readily be resold and for a profit, hrhppg and herb. Nor does South Park bring appreciable monies into Montclair other than in what is actually spent at its bar. In the end it’s just another bar. Not any sort of sacred shrine for the bibulous. Not even the younger of the bibulous.

    Really, too, if Dressing For Pleasure had been THAT profitable, it’d likely still be in Montclair. As best I recall the situation, and no matter the verbal hairballs its proprietors hacked up at the time, it was hardly “driven out” of town by wild-eyed and hemline-obsessed Baptist (mayhap Islamic as well?) fundamentalists with pitchforks and torches. Let’s not exaggerate.

    That people supposedly “still” ask you about that place, hrhppg, merely hints at how limited your own social horizons may well be. Which makes you a perfect potential patron yourself for South Park, I realize…

  10. And would you feel better, redrum, if Caggiano’s simply stocked more expensive wines and spirits by way of driving away those you see as its current clientele? You’re making a barely concealed class (maybe even racial) distinction with your post above.Surely, too, the drinking world of Montclair is large enough to harbor admirers of both good ol’ T-Bird and old vine Sassicaias.

  11. Cathar, Caggiano’s is stocking more than wines and spirits… its a malignant blight on the neighborhood. Its time for it to go.

  12. Has Baskerville ever stated why she opposes all liquor license renewals? If she is against having any drinking establishments in town then she should say so and explain why she has taken that position.

  13. @johnq, did you really bring your family to the Park sports bar? What were you thinking? Diva’s only became a pit after the original owner sold it.

  14. MPD has responded to 94 calls regarding disruption of the peace at Park Sports bar since January 2010. Hmm when did Ms LeRoy move into the Sienna; I wonder how many times she has called herself. Just because the police were called to a location does not mean an actual violation occurred.

    There are twelve charges (on 94 calls?) brought against Melnikoff by township prosecutor Kenneth Strait, including illegal alcohol sales and marijuana use. If he in fact violated the law or regulations under which he operates than pay the penalty; which could be loss/suspension of license. But I must add unless it was Mr. Melnikoff himself or from his staff smoking marijuana I’d like to know why are they being charged with the use?

  15. It’s pretty catty to get upset about the marijuana. Pot and bars are synonymous. Its not like no one is doing it either, whether its in their home, on their sun porch, or in the back of an El Camino.

  16. Well cathar the town fire inspector stopping by for bi weekly inspections doesn’t happen at any other business but it did for DWP – so I’m not exaggerating. People from London, Tokyo and even that scary place known as Long Island have asked me about DFP.

    And “verbal hairballs”, once again pot calling kettle black.

  17. “But I must add unless it was Mr. Melnikoff himself or from his staff smoking marijuana I’d like to know why are they being charged with the use?”

    For the record, it was indeed Mr. Melnikoff himself, but that’s not the issue. There is no reason why he needs to run his establishment the way he does. There are dozens of ways to operate a local bar more responsibly. Hopefully he will be true to his word…make necessary improvements and turn the bar/restaurant into a place we can all be proud of. I do not understand why people on this site are saying such nasty things about Leone’s, which is a long-standing, established family-owned business (with an owner who fought her way out of a coma), and then defend a place that disrespects the town the way this place does.

  18. Nancy Leroy is just pissed she lives in a building that is the joke of Montclair, misplace anger and frustration for sure.

    In terms of Baskerville, I wish we could all vote to let the fourth ward expire.

  19. Sheepy – We would go to that spot on occasion several year ago, and it was fine. This time ? Just plain scary. It was like something out of Oz – not the Wizard, but the prison series instead..

  20. I assume they don’t make suits and shirts with enough cuff for juice-heads, I’d imagine with all the money saved by purchasing cheap tank tops there would be an appropriate display of fashion here and there. What we have is a “gorilla suit” and a hairstyle worn by “Usher” A.K.A. the “coon skin.”

  21. According to the Monclair Times, Mr. Melnikoff was found smoking pot in his office during a spot inspection during daytime hours. Now I’m all for legalizing pot, but I sure wouldn’t toke up in my office during business hours whether or not it was legal — most certainly not before it was legal. Seems to me to be a compelling indicator of managerial incompetance and poor judgement. I agree with Cathar here — the place is poorly managed, and as long as this guy is in the manager’s seat, it’s going to trickle down. Generally, when someone is that dumb, they don’t get smarter.

  22. from the Montclair Times

    “Detectives stopped by the bar at about 11:30 a.m. May 26, 2009, and when police entered the owner’s basement office, they smelled burnt marijuana and encountered Melnikoff, who appeared nervous, police said. In a back room, investigators found a small amount of pot on a desk, two “pipes” made of aluminum foil, and a plastic bag containing about 30 grams of the drug, police said.

    Melnikoff was charged with possession of under 50 grams of marijuana and of drug paraphernalia, investigators said.”

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