Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty has been accused of fraud, tortious interference, breach of contract and breach of covenant in suit filed against Doherty personally and the Borough of Belmar by the landlord of Salt, the Harmon Brothers’ establishment whose liquor license transfer was denied by the Borough last Spring.
The suit filed by William Wolf of Bathgate, Wegener and Wolf on behalf a Loko Co, LLC, a development company owned by Gregory Kapalko, alleges that Doherty urged Kapalko to suspend the permitting applications with the NJ DEP for the construction of the waterfront property that Loko has an agreement with the Borough to redevelop and instead enter into a Joint Venture with Ollie Klein, the owner of Klein’s Fish Market, and Stephen and Mark Coleman, Florida based real estate investors. Doherty promised that the Borough would extend the schedule of the Redevelopment Agreement if Klein and the Colemans were involved in the project, according to the suit. Loko complied with Doherty’s suggestion and he reneged on the deal to extend the Redevelopment Agreement.
Additionally, the suit alleges that upon learning that Loko had entered into a lease, in accordance with the Redevelopment Agreement, with Timothy and Matthew Harmon (the Harmon Brothers) to operate a temporary outdoor tiki bar on the site during the 2015 and 2016 summer seasons, Doherty told Kapalko that the Harmons would never be allowed to operate a business on the site.
Doherty told Kapalko that the Harnons’ application for their liquor license transfer would get lost in Police Headquarters, would take forever to get to the Borough Council and would be denied by the Borough Council. According to the suit, Doherty said the Harmons would have to appeal the Council’s denial to the Alcohol Beverage Commission and that the Borough would appeal an ABC decision in favor of the Harmons.
The rejection of the Harmons’s liquor license transfer has been a subject of controversy in Belmar, including the the protest by Belmar residents in front of Doherty’s home during a fundraiser for his ill-fated campaign for Monmouth County Freeholder that featured U.S. Senator Cory Booker.
Why would Doherty, who bragged about of development in Belmar during his freeholder campaign, be out to get the Harmons and thwart the Loko development?
Quite possibly because the Harmons, holders of a year round liquor license in Belmar, opposed Doherty’s efforts to get legislation passed that would extend the period during which seasonal liquor licensees can operate in the Borough.
New Jersey has eight seasonal liquor licenses. Three of them are in Belmar. Two of those establishments, 10th Avenue Burrito and La Dolce Vita, operate as “bring your own” restaurants during the off season. The third, D’Jais, know as an incubator of infectious diseases and for its political support of Doherty, is closed during the off-season.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Governor Chris Christie signed Executive Orders allow seasonal drinking establishments to serve liquor starting on March 1st, rather than the statutorily approved date of May 1. Christie’s Orders allow D’Jais to open for the Belmar St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2013, 2014 and 2015. However, Christie did not issued the Order in 2016 and he did not sign a bill that passed in the legislature that would have permanently changed the date that seasonal bars can open to March 1.
Sources familiar with the Harmons’ situation told MMM that they believe Doherty is out to get the Harmons because of their opposition to the special legislation that favors only D’Jais, LaDolce Vita and 10th Ave Burrito.
Similar legislation has been re-introduce this fall. It has advanced through the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Reform and Federal Relations Committee with the support of Doherty’s buddy, Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling. No action has yet to be taken in the State Senate.