Princeton Council members voted Monday night to approve the transfer of a liquor license from Princeton University to restaurateur Jim Nawn. Nawn’s company, the Fenwick Hospitality Group, will operate the new bistro and restaurant at the former Dinky station buildings on University Place in downtown Princeton.
The vote was unanimous. Councilwoman Heather Howard voted even though she is an employee of the university.
Under New Jersey’s Local Government Ethics Law, “no local government officer or employee shall act in his official capacity in any matter where he, a member of his immediate family, or a business organization in which he has an interest, has a direct or indirect financial or personal involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment.”
In response to an email Tuesday morning from Planet Princeton raising the issue of whether voting was a conflict of interest, Howard responded in the late afternoon claiming there was no conflict.
“This was a ministerial action — the resolution states they met all the state and local statutory requirements — and not one where the municipality has discretion,” Howard wrote. “The municipal lawyer confirmed not a conflict.”
According to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Handbook for Municipal Issuing Authorities, municipalities are the local issuing authority for liquor licenses. The local authority has the power to approve or deny the issuing of liquor licenses, renewals, and transfers. The municipality also has the power to enforce alcoholic beverage control laws. If the governing body votes against transferring or renewing a license, the applicant can file an appeal with the director of the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
The sale price for the liquor license was not disclosed Monday night. Princeton University bought the license from restaurateur Jack Morrison last year for about $1.5 million. Planet Princeton has filed a public records request with the municipality for the liquor license transfer application, which contains sale information.
The new Dinky Bar and Kitchen is slated to open in one of the old station buildings next month. The bistro will have a bar, and offer small plates and snacks. The other eatery in the second Dinky Station building is slated to open next spring. The buildings are owned by the university. The terms of the arrangement between the school and Fenwick have not been disclosed. Under an agreement with a previous restaurant group that fell through, the group would have paid the university a base rent plus a percentage of gross sales.