LOWER MAKEFIELD >> Township voters will be asked to vote yes or no on a referendum appearing on the Tuesday, June 2 ballot on whether to allow the sale of liquor in the township.
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 bans 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 or voters pass the referendum changing the township’s dry status.
The June 2 ballot question will ask voters, “Do you favor the granting of liquor licenses for the sale of liquor in the Township of Lower Makefield?”
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.
Under the previous law, before a referendum could be placed on the ballot, a petition with a number of signatures equal to at least 25 percent of the highest vote cast for any office in that municipality in the preceding general election was required to be filed with the local board of elections.
In Lower Makefield that equated to between 2800 and 5200 signatures that were required for ballot placement and had to be collected during a three week period in the middle of winter, which made the task challenging.
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.
“It’s up to the residents of Lower Makefield Township to determine what they want to do,” said Warren. “The democratic process is working here in Lower Makefield Township and we are pleased we were able to help facilitate that at the state level.”
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 spells out the issues related to the referendum “and helps residents to know what the impact will be.”
Business owners, like McCaffrey, argue that lifting the ban will benefit the township economically, particularly in 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.
Matt Longo, the owner/operator of DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies, said he supports passage of a 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.
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 in more unique dining experiences into the township that would fit the demographics of the community and the area and offer more choice in dining options.
“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.”
While the June 2 Primary is typically limited to Republican and Democrat voters, Independents will be allowed to vote solely on the referendum question.
If voters approve the referendum on June 2, don't expect immediate changes.
It will be quite some time before restaurants would be able to secure licenses from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to start selling alcoholic beverages at their establishments.
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 through transfer agreements, which take time, are very 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.”
Surprisingly Lower Makefield, which sits on the banks of the Delaware River and is bisected by Interstate 295, is 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.