Sea Bright Restaurant Owner Sues Mayor and Council

July 18, 2017
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Thomas Bonfiglio, managing partner for Tommy’s Tavern + Tap in Sea Bright, is taking on the Sea Bright mayor and Borough Council in a lawsuit, alleging the officials have treated his business unfairly.

By John Burton |

SEA BRIGHT — The owner of Tommy’s Tavern + Tap has issues with the Sea Bright mayor and governing body and is taking them to court.

The limited liability companies, 1030 Partners and 1030 Liquor Partners, that own and operate Tommy’s Tavern + Tap, 1030 Ocean Ave., and their managing partner, Thomas Bonfiglio, have filed a lawsuit naming Sea Bright, its mayor, Dina Long, and the six-member Borough Council as defendants. The suit raises a series of allegations against the elected officials charging they acted in an untoward and arbitrary manner concerning the popular restaurant, hobbling its ability to maximize its business potential.

In an interview with The Two River Times this week, Bonfiglio said of the elected officials, “They make decisions, they don’t realize this is a business and there are consequences…They shoot from the hip.”

The civil suit, filed by Freehold lawyer Robert Munoz on July 5, lays out a series of eight complaints brought against the officials. The plaintiffs maintain the existing municipal noise ordinance is “arbitrary, unreasonable, and capricious,” also alleging it is in violation of the state noise control act. The suit alleges the existing local ordinance “is overly inclusive, overly vague, and fails to specify the activity that it seeks to prohibit.” The governing body, by its actions, the court filing alleges, has infringed upon Bonfiglio’s civil rights, having “deprived Plaintiffs of their equal protection and due process, and the privileges secured by the laws and Constitution of this State…” namely by instilling restrictions that the suit argues have impeded Tommy’s Tavern + Tap.

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Another count alleges borough officials violated the state Open Public Meetings Act. That state law requires, in part, that most official actions be done in public after officials have duly advertised and provided adequate public notices of their intentions. Bonfiglio and his attorney maintain elected officials had communicated among themselves via phone calls, texts and emails around the time of May 19 regarding Tommy’s ongoing application before the borough land use board for expanding the restaurant’s use. That constituted an “intent to act as a unit,” among the elected officials, without informing the public, the complaint charged.

“What I take exception to is the colluding,” on the part of Mayor Long and the Borough Council, Bonfiglio alleged.

Bonfiglio opened Tommy’s two years ago, rebuilding on the site of the former borough post office and adjacent property which had had a gas station operating on it, both of which had been severely damaged by Super Storm Sandy in October 2012. Since opening, the location has proven to be increasingly popular. So much so that Bonfiglio sought to include additional seating at the back of the restaurant, on property backing up to the Shrewsbury River, and offer such attractions as music, bocce ball and cornhole tossing games on the site. Bonfiglio wound up squaring off with the borough combined Planning/Zoning Board, as well as facing opposition from residents of the neighboring Nautilus Condominiums and a Rumson homeowner over noise concerns.

The Land Use Board in May approved an amended plan, which included no outdoor speakers or live music or entertainment but permitted outdoor dining overlooking the river.

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Since then, the Borough Council revised and approved its noise ordinance in an attempt to clarify the permitted from the excessive. Officials had sought to strike a balance between the number of entertainment destinations, most rebuilt and expanded since Sandy, and to accommodate residential locations in the borough’s downtown commercial district that for a number of sites sit right next to bars and restaurants operating into the late evening or early morning.

Bonfiglio said this week that the elected officials are singling out his business, especially with the new noise ordinance and other conditions. “I think they’re trying to see how far they can push me,” he said. The complaint noted the location’s liquor license renewal was subject to additional restrictions, too. Those restrictions included restricting the sale and service of alcohol in the outdoor area after 10 p.m.

“They’re not used to someone pushing back,” he said of the council.

Borough attorney Roger J. McLaughlin, who is representing the mayor and council on this matter, did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Borough Councilman Marc Leckstein drafted the noise ordinance adopted by the council. In response to some of the suit’s contentions, Leckstein said, “I can empathically say that the noise ordinance was not directed toward Tommy’s or any single establishment,” but to address concerns regarding all of businesses.

Mayor Dina Long declined to comment directly on the suit on advice of the lawyer. “The one thing I would say,” she said, “it’s unfortunate that Mr. Bonfiglio chose to bring a lawsuit that’s going to cost our taxpayers when he could have initiated a conversation.”

This article was first published in the July 13-20, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.



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