Around 150 supporters of the West New York restaurant Son Cubano stood outside of the town’s middle school at 5:30 p.m. Monday night wearing “I support Son Cubano” t-shirts and holding signs that read “Say no to ordinance 25/11” and “Unfair legislation.” Son Cubano’s spokesman, Raul Vincente, led the crowd in a chant that recalled the famous anti-Vietnam protest: “Hell no, we won’t go!”
Approximately five hours later, Mayor Felix Roque and the West New York Town Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of an ordinance that will require any restaurant with a liquor license within 100 feet of any 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 this affects is Son Cubano.
The district was defined as an area surrounding Riverwalk Place in the Port Imperial development.
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 complaint from residents of the nearby waterfront luxury buildings. Those complaints inspired Roque to propose the ordinance in May when he was elected as West New York’s new mayor.
“Son Cubano means the sounds of music, and that’s what we have.” –Alex Duran
He said that out of Son Cubano’s 85 employees, approximately 65 are from West New York.
Gerry Lange, a former town commissioner who had served under former Mayor Sal Vega, attended the meeting in support of the restaurant. He said he believes the matter should be dealt with by Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) board rather than the town’s Board of Commissioners.
“Are there some problems with the restaurant? Yes,” Lange said. “But there is much more to this than meets the eye.”
Is it legit?
A good portion of the meeting was tied up by attorneys arguing over the legitimacy of the ordinance, which seems to target only one establishment.
According to N.J. state law, an ordinance cannot be voted on at the same meeting during which it is first presented. Son Cubano’s Attorney Carl Rizzo argued to West New York Town Attorney Julio Morejon that a section of the ordinance that originally prohibited outdoor dining after 11 p.m. had been changed to 10 p.m. without his knowledge. He said that therefore, the ordinance should merely be reintroduced on Monday and voted on at a meeting another day.
Rizzo also argued that the town did not have the authority to “spot change” laws dealing with plenary licenses (those allowing an establishment to serve alcohol). He said the ABC board did not allow for what he called “discriminatory licensing.”
He asked the town not to waste their time and money bringing an ordinance to legislation when it was flawed to begin with.
Attorney John O’Donnell, who represented the residents of the Grandview I and II buildlings, argued that the changes made to the ordinance were not substantive enough to preclude a vote that night. He went on to argue that the ABC does in fact have the authority to limit licenses and set separate laws for separate zones.
ABC attorney Frank Joya said actually, the ABC may in fact allow for ordinances to set different regulations in the same municipality. He said that the Board of Commissioners is not required to send such ordinances to the ABC board for approval beforehand.
Roque chose to speak about this point. He said that while he considered Son Cubano a town landmark, “You guys have got to get your act together. Let’s get to reality.”
Rizzo responded, “Mr. Mayor, you are in bed with Grandview, and your ordinance is segregating this town.”
The board took a 15-minute recess shortly thereafter.
What the people had to say
After the recess, meeting attendees watched videos taken by Grandview resident Michael Hyun of the alleged noise disturbances outside of Son Cubano. Rizzo then presented the board with 1,127 petitions (201 from West New York residents, 860 from Hudson County residents, and the rest from the tri-state area) against the ordinance.
The floor was then opened up to public comment. Around 50 people — both for and against the ordinance — signed up to speak. There were so many that they were limited to three minutes each.
West New York Board of Education member Christine Piscitelli said she lives in a unit directly above Son Cubano and has suffered from 11 months of “sleep deprivation, anxiety, and stress” from the noise disturbances. She also charged that the disturbances extend well beyond the hours of 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. (when the restaurant no longer serves food).
The restaurant’s landlord spoke against the ordinance. “This is like spot zoning,” said Jonathan Presiosi of Port Imperial North Retail. He mirrored Rizzo’s argument that the municipality does not have the right to discern between various plenary license holders, and that the issue was for the ABC and not a town ordinance to decide.
Son Cubano engineer Louis J. Luglio followed suit when he said that Port Imperial had been planned and marketed to residents as a “mixed used area,” or an area that includes both residences and businesses. He pointed out that P.F. Chang’s restaurant stands 150 feet from residences, which sets it only 50 feet outside of the ordinance. (The restaurant is only open until midnight on Friday and Saturday and so would not be affected either way.) Luglio went on to say that the ordinance would take away 17 percent of the restaurant’s revenue-producing operating hours.
Son Cubano co-owner Alex Duran addressed the audience rather than the board, thanking his supporters for attending the meeting.
“My intention was to always get along,” he said. “Son Cubano means the sounds of music, and that’s what we have.” He added that he has a 20-year lease and is not going anywhere.
Duran’s sister Carol said, “This is West New York; this is not Maine.” She also said she moved to Leonia for the peace and quiet of the suburbs, which should not be expected in an urban area.
Alina Waxman and her family has lived in the Grandview complex for over four years. She took issue with the accusation made by Son Cubano supporters that the only people making complaints were those who moved in after the restaurant was built. Waxman said she was excited when the restaurant moved in, until the noise got to be too much. “It is not pleasant to hear my baby scream night after night,” she said.
The board voted the ordinance into effect 5-0.
However, Vincente promised to bring the matter to litigation.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org