Birch Hill liquor license

still in limelight in O.B.

Township Council sets

hearing for possible

revocation for Sept. 11

By natalie m. vena

OLD BRIDGE — When the Township Council renewed Birch Hill Inc.’s liquor license two weeks ago, the only strike against the club was outstanding fire district fines.

Now, in light of several incidents that occurred at the club recently, the council is reconsidering the status of the license and has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 11 to pursue possible revocation.

According to Assistant Township Attorney Jim Condon, the council renewed the liquor license on June 26 because the matter involving the fire district fines was pending before an administrative law judge.

"If we revoked the license [before the judge’s decision], it would appear that we were trying to circumvent the judgment of the administrative law judge," Condon said.

There is a dispute as to the number of outstanding fire district fines, which were incurred by the club on Sept. 19, 1989. The council alleges that the club owes $15,000 in fire district fines, while Art Stock, owner of the club, alleges that the actual amount owed is $1,500. According to Stock, the amount was reduced to $1,500 by a federal bankruptcy judge after Stock filed for bankruptcy in the mid-1990s.

Since the alleged reduction of the fine, Stock claims he has been making quarterly payments to pay off the debt in accordance with a five-year payment plan.

Stock attended Monday night’s meeting to answer council member’s questions about additional charges pending against him filed by the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

The beverage control division filed charges against Stock alleging that during July 1999 the nightclub maintained alcoholic beverages in bottles without proper labeling or the required federal tax stamps. The club was also charged with not having available for inspection a complete list containing the names, addresses and other required information with respect to all current employees on the licensed premises, and for failing to provide true bookkeeping records for inspection.

Stock said that the charges against him are "totally false."

"We feel we will be exonerated [regarding the beverage control charges]," Stock said at the meeting.

Regarding the improperly labeled bottles, Stock explained they were filled with prepared mixed drinks that would later be served to customers by "shot girls" at the club.

Stock also said that on the day of the beverage control inspection, his secretary could not locate the requested documents, which were on display in the office. Stock has since provided the beverage control division with the necessary documents.

Township Attorney William Ruggierio advised council members to carry the matter until September at the request of the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

The nightclub was in the limelight again regarding a rave party which was held on June 17. During the private party, which drew 5,000 people, police made 32 arrests, including eight juveniles for underage drinking and for the use and sale of drug paraphernalia

"It is not good for Old Bridge to have in its midst the biggest rave party on the East Coast and to be the host of NJ Sexpo 2000," Councilman Edward Testino said. "It is costing the township money in police department and first aid overtime."

The Sexpo Testino referred to is a private party hosted by TJ Productions that will be held at Birch Hill on July 22 and 23.

According to Stock, the 21-and-over event has been held at the nightclub five or six times in the past with no incidents involving police.

"Our facility hosts private parties — that’s what we do," Stock said.

The majority of council members agreed with Testino about pursuing the revocation of the club’s liquor license.

Councilman Richard Greene stated that he believes the recent events at the club "give the town a bad mark. It’s a reflection on the town. I’m all for removing the liquor license."

In addition to recent happenings at the club, Stock is presently being sued by the grandparents of a 14-year-old Long Branch Middle School honor student who drowned in a swimming pool at the Birch Hill Swim Club during a school trip on June 13.