LOWER MAKEFIELD >> Township voters on Tuesday, June 2 overwhelmingly voted yes to a referendum on whether to allow the sale of liquor licenses in the township.
Unofficial results show the ballot question winning handily in every precinct across the board in the township.
“It’s great news for the township and a long time in coming. And obviously it seems like the vast majority of residents agree,” said State Senator Steve Santarsiero who represents the township in Harrisburg, but also lives in Lower Makefield. “I always believed that if we were successful in getting it on the ballot that it would pass comfortably.
“The sale of liquor licenses is allowed in every other town in Bucks County and it has not negatively impacted those towns,” he continued. “And there’s no reason to expect that it would in Lower Makefield.
“Particularly now, with the pandemic, this will help our restaurants and provide a boost to our local economy at exactly the right time,” said Santarsiero.
Since 1949 when voters approved a referendum to ban the sale of alcohol in the township, restaurants and eateries here have not been allowed to sell alcoholic beverages.
Lower Makefield is the only municipality in Bucks and Montgomery counties that banned alcohol sales, although over the years township leaders have allowed a number of exemptions, most noteably for its municipally-owned golf course - Makefield Highlands on Woodside Road - which is permitted to serve alcoholic beverages.
Under state law, State Stores are also allowed to operate and sell bottled liquor inside two of the township’s grocery stores, and Shady Brook Farm has a limited license to sell Pennsylvania-produced wine and beer by the glass at its farm market cafe on Stony Hill Road in addition to selling bottles of its Rose Bank Wine to carry out.
But if you’re looking have a drink with your meal at one of the township’s restaurants, like Carlucci’s, Villa Rosa, Christine’s or DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies, you’re out of luck unless, of course, you bring your own.
The passage of the ballot question on June 2 now allows restaurants and grocery stores to purchase liquor licenses to sell beer, wine and spirits.
But don’t look for things to change overnight in the township, said Santarsiero.
It will take a while for restaurant and grocery store owners to secure licenses from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to start selling alcoholic beverages at their establishments.
“Licenses can purchased by existing restaurants who want to transition to a liquor license,” said Santarsiero. “But it will also provide the opportunity for new businesses, like a pub, to come in at some point, hopefully in the next year.”
Based on the township’s population, the municipality is entitled to up to 11 licenses, but they won’t be newly-issued ones. They will have to be secured from other municipalities within Bucks County through transfer agreements, which take time, are costly and are each subject to approval by the Lower Makefield Board of Supervisors.
“It’s going to take creative business people to find the licenses available and to bring that opportunity here,” said Shady Brook Farm owner Dave Fleming. “And those licenses will be limited to those commercial districts where it is allowed. It’s not going to change what the community is, but it will give businesses an opportunity they don’t have today.”
Lower Makefield business leaders had twice before attempted to place a referendum on the ballot, but both times had fallen short on securing the required number of signatures.
Under a new law signed by Governor Wolf last summer, the required number of signatures is now capped at 500, which businessowners were successfully able to collect early this year to secure ballot placement.
State Sen. Steve Santarsiero and State Rep. Perry Warren were instrumental in amending the state’s liquor laws last year that lowered the number of signatures required for placement of a ballot question.
Earlier this year, Independent grocery store owner Jim McCaffrey commended the lawmakers for making the process easier. “In the past we had a pretty tremendous task” in terms of the number of signatures that were required.
“It should be in the hands of residents to make their choice,” said McCaffrey, who directed residents to the website - www.yourtownyourchoice.com - which spelled out the issues related to the referendum “and helped residents to know what the impact will be.”
Business owners, like McCaffrey, argued that lifting the ban would benefit the township economically.
“It’s all around us,” said McCaffrey of liquor-licensed establishments. “Why should we give up the business to neighboring towns? I think it would be good for this township.”
The change could particularly benefit the commercially-developing Edgewood Village area of the township, which is seeing a resurgence in new businesses and eating establishments from the redevelopment of the historic crossroads village and the Flowers property.
That area, said Fleming, with its mixed-use commercial and residential zoning, is ideal “to create a centerpiece for Lower Makefield. Having restaurants, having a pub would be great.”
Matt Longo, the owner/operator of DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies, supported passage of the referendum and the synergies it could create in the local business community.
While he said DeLorenzo’s would not be seeking a liquor license, he said as a local resident who now lives in Edgewood Village he’s excited by the possibilities passage of the referendum could bring to his neighborhood.
“I bought into the Edgewood Village concept. This is just another piece of the puzzle that will bring new energy to this area,” he said.
Another area that could benefit is the proposed Prickett’s Preserve mixed use development project now being eyed for office-research zoned land across from Shady Brook Farm. That project proposes a Wegman’s Supermarket and several higher-end restaurants that would benefit from the change.
Lower Makefield Supervisor John Lewis, a long time supporter of passage of a referendum, said having the ability to get a liquor license could bring more unique dining experiences into the township and offer more choice.
“And from a grocery store perspective, the Giant in Morrisville and McCaffrey’s in Newtown, sell beer and wine,” said Lewis. “We have two State Stores, but if you like beer you have to go somewhere else. Again, it’s giving people more choices.”
Surprisingly Lower Makefield, which sits on the banks of the Delaware River and is bisected by Interstate 295, was not alone in Pennsylvania in its dry status. There are hundreds of other municipalities in the Commonwealth that limit, in whole or in part, the sale of alcohol.