Sunday, August 05, 2007

Business - Herald News - Court balks at restaurant closing ordinance

Published in the [Paterson] Herald News, Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Court balks at restaurant rule


PATERSON -- Grace Kuz sympathizes with the late-night eatery owners who helped successfully overturn a city ordinance requiring they close after midnight. But the Superior Court's decision on Monday does not make her feel safe.

"I really think it's a big slap in the face of the city of Paterson," said Kuz, 50. "The judge himself should read in the paper and see all we are going through."

Three fatal shootings took place near late-night chicken joints in Paterson this year, including two deaths this past weekend and the murder of off-duty police officer Tyron D. Franklin in January. After Franklin's death, the City Council adopted an ordinance requiring that restaurants with fewer than 10 tables close at 12:01 a.m. and not open again until 5 a.m. Six Paterson storeowners sued the city, arguing that it took away prime business hours.

Superior Court Assignment Judge Robert Passero acknowledged the restaurants' link to the recent killings, which both took place on Rosa Parks Boulevard between Godwin and Hamilton avenues where a New York Fried Chicken is located. But the ordinance as written was vague, unenforceable and "irrational," Passero stated.

"Judicial decisions must be premised on sound legal principles, not an emotional response to a tragedy," he said in his ruling.

Mayor Jose "Joey" Torres said he will work with the council to draft a clearer statute. The new law will establish size guidelines based on a restaurant's square footage, not tables.

Figuring out which establishments were primarily takeout joints presented much of the confusion in the overturned ordinance, police said during the three-day trial last week.

"It's a learning curve for us," said Torres, who hopes the city will pass new legislation in about a month.

In the meantime, Torres promised to beef up police presence around hangout hotspots. Michele Tobias, a cousin of James Felton, 30, who was slain on Saturday morning, said that the 4th Ward needs a 24-hour foot patrol.

"I pray that no more of our children will be shot," Tobias said.

The midnight shuttering yielded about a dozen tickets -- quite a few, considering Paterson is home to fewer than 10 late-night small eateries, according to Council President Ken Morris Jr. The city stopped enforcing the rule in March after the storeowners filed suit.

One of the storeowners received a fine of up to $1,000 and a possible 90 days in jail for disobeying the ordinance, according to Richard Blender, a Paterson lawyer who represented the storeowners.

"Many of them would have to close," said Blender on Monday afternoon. "The fact that the city wanted to deprive its citizens and dictate when they could eat was wrong."

Paterson's ordinance copied one in Passaic. Since it began in 2003, Abdul Ghani, owner of Monroe Fried Chicken, said his business fell by 40 percent. He had to cut the staff by half.

"We lost a lot of money from it," said Ghani, 35. "Everybody complained. They knocked on the door saying that they were hungry."

Passaic amended its law after it was adopted, and Torres said that Paterson will examine those additions. But striking the law entirely is not an option, according to Morris. "The ordinance is not going away," he said.

Kuz said she hopes not. Her family lost a lot of sleep over the rowdiness coming from those who congregated outside New York Fried Chicken, which is next to where she lived. Loiterers broke her new $250 air conditioner by tossing objects at her windows, she said. In 2004, she ended up abandoning her home of five years and moving elsewhere.

"We're not asking for the stores to be closed," Kuz said. "We're just asking for shorter hours."

Kuz and Tobias plan to address the issue during a council meeting tonight. Additionally, 4th Ward residents will host a community forum on crime on Thursday.

Reach Heather Haddon at 973-569-7121 or

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.