By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
City Council on Tuesday approved the transfer of the liquor license for the landmark LaCosta Lounge in Sea Isle City, culminating a nine-month legal battle between the bar’s former and current owners that spilled into bankruptcy court.
“It was a lengthy legal process. We got the license. We look forward to reopening and serving our customers,” LaCosta owner Christopher Glancey said in an interview after the Council meeting.
Glancey, who teamed up with his business partner Bob Morris to buy LaCosta for $7.3 million in 2018, originally was going to demolish the lounge to build a new hotel, restaurant, outdoor bar and banquet hall. However, Glancey and Morris have stepped back from those plans.
Instead, they are looking to open the newly named LaCosta Beach Bar in time for the Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the bustling summer vacation season at the shore.
“Obviously, our goal is the Memorial Day weekend,” Glancey said.
Glancey and Morris also acquired the Coast Motel, Casino Pizzeria and a parking lot that were part of the entire 1.25-acre LaCosta site at the corner of Landis Avenue and John F. Kennedy Boulevard.
Details will be announced later for the Coast Motel and Casino Pizzeria building as plans continue to evolve for the site, Glancey said. The project will be submitted to Sea Isle’s Planning Board after Glancey and Morris complete the revisions.
As they were making preparations to reopen the bar, Glancey and Morris were trying to reach a deal with LaCosta’s former owner, James Bennett, for the liquor license.
Bankruptcy court documents show they originally agreed to a price of $1 million for the liquor license. The price was later lowered to $825,000, according to the documents.
However, Bennett would not give his consent to transferring the liquor license, putting it in limbo for months while both sides battled in state Superior Court, the appellate division and finally U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Bennett Enterprises, a group controlled by Bennett, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December.
In a March 16 decision, a bankruptcy judge ruled in favor of Glancey and Morris for the liquor license, opening the door for City Council to formally transfer it to the new owners on Tuesday.
Council members Jack Gibson, Frank Edwardi and J.B. Feeley approved the transfer by a 3-0 vote. Councilwoman Mary Tighe did not attend the teleconference meeting. Council President William Kehner recused himself from voting to avoid any conflicts because he had formerly worked as the manager of LaCosta Lounge’s liquor store.
LaCosta shut down last September when Glancey and Morris were originally looking to redevelop the site for a hotel, restaurant, outdoor bar and banquet hall. A lawsuit filed by an opponent of the project brought the redevelopment plan to a halt.
In the meantime, LaCosta will reopen for at least one more summer. A fixture in Sea Isle since 1972, the old-school nightclub established a reputation as being one of the best-known bars at the Jersey Shore.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Council introduced an ordinance to reduce the speed limit on 42nd Place from 25 mph to 15 mph and to add two speed bumps on the road to slow down traffic. The ordinance is scheduled for a public hearing and final vote at the May 25 Council meeting.
Sea Isle is building seven new pickleball courts on 42nd Place and anticipates that the courts will draw more road traffic when they open this summer. City Solicitor Paul Baldini told Council that the city does not want 42nd Place to become a “speedway.”
In other business, medical marijuana advocates appealed to Council to revise Sea Isle’s proposed ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, arguing that it would create an undue hardship on patients to obtain cannabis.
“We need your help,” medical marijuana user Edward “Lefty” Grimes told Council.
Grimes, who lives in East Hanover, N.J., is an advocate for the disabled and patient rights. He said medical marijuana patients who use wheelchairs “should not have obstacles put in front of them to get their medicine.”
Jaime Van Sciver, of Paulsboro, N.J., another medical marijuana user, said patients depend on cannabis to help relieve chronic pain. She said it would be too much of a burden for residents and visitors in Sea Isle to travel off the island to get medical marijuana from an offshore dispensary.
“I’m here to talk for the people who are too sick,” Van Sciver said.
Council has introduced an ordinance that includes a blanket prohibition of the sale, manufacture and distribution of both recreational and medical marijuana in Sea Isle. The measure is scheduled for a public hearing and final vote at Council’s May 11 meeting.
The ordinance follows New Jersey’s legalization of recreational marijuana in February. State legislation legalizing marijuana gives municipalities 180 days to prohibit marijuana sales within their borders. Sea Isle is one of those communities.
Kehner said when the ordinance was introduced on April 13 that Sea Isle has “no interest in tolerating marijuana sales.”
As it has done for all of its meetings in the past year amid the pandemic, Council conducted Tuesday’s session by teleconference. After listening to Grimes, Van Sciver and other medical marijuana advocates call in, Kehner told them that Council would take their comments under consideration heading up to the final vote on the ordinance in May.