By Dan Moffett

Manalapan town commissioners say they’re looking forward to Publix’s opening a supermarket at Plaza del Mar this summer.

But they’re not so excited about that long-awaiting arrival that they’re willing to allow Publix to open a wine and liquor store next door.

On March 27 the commission denied a request by the supermarket chain and Plaza del Mar landlord Kitson & Partners to sell liquor and wine in a 1,500-square-foot unit roughly 30 feet west of the Publix building.

“I’m on the record supporting a Publix as long as there was no liquor store,” Vice Mayor Peter Isaac said. “It would be 200 yards from the public beach and that gives me great concern.”

Isaac said he would be willing to support a store that sold only fine wines. But spirits? “I would be absolutely against hard liquor.”

The commission agreed. Commissioners Clark Appleby and Jack Doyle voted with Isaac in denying the Publix request. Commissioner Hank Siemon dissented, saying he believed “it was a little bit early” to make the decision and that it would be better if the commission waited until the supermarket gets established.The new Publix will carry beer and wine.

Mayor Pro Tem Simone Bonutti and Commissioner Monica Oberting were absent.

The issue of the liquor store first arose two years ago when Publix made its initial pitch to the town. However, commissioners essentially tabled the proposal to concentrate on getting the supermarket’s construction issues resolved.

Representatives of the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa and residents of La Coquille Villas also oppose the liquor store.

Mayor Keith Waters argued that the commission should hold off voting until it had more information and more input from constituents. The mayor noted that the Eau and two restaurants in the plaza currently serve wine and liquor. 

“We fight a difficult fight here in that it is an approved use for this space,” Waters said.

State law prohibits any alcohol consumption on the beach, and violations of that statute are what opponents fear most — that spring breakers, tourists and partygoers from across the bridge will show up on the beach with vodka bottles in brown bags.

Appleby argued that there is a proven statistical correlation between higher availability of alcohol in an area and higher crime rates. He said the liquor store proposal does not satisfy requirements that special zoning exceptions protect “public health, safety, morals and general welfare” of the town.

“A liquor store invites a certain crowd,” Appleby said. “You’re asking for trouble, and it doesn’t fit in with the morals of our town.”

Town Attorney Keith Davis said it’s up to Publix and Kitson now to decide whether they want to contest the commission’s denial.

In other business, Town Manager Linda Stumpf said architect Mark Marsh is finishing plans for redesigning the Town Hall chambers. The plan is to reconfigure the room with an expanded dais that allows commissioners and officials to sit at the same level and more easily engage each other.

Stumpf said the renovation, which is expected to begin this summer, would force the commission to hold one or two of its meeting in the Town Library. 

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