Point Pleasant Beach's borough council voted Tuesday night to introduce an ordinance that would force bar owners to pay a fee to stay open past midnight and restrict parking on streets near the town's boardwalk and beach area.
With Mayor Vincent Barrella voting yes and breaking a 3 to 3 tie, the council voted for first reading of an ordinance that will be up for second reading and adoption at the April 3 meeting.
Council members Stephen Reid, William Mayer and Tim Lurie voted against the proposal. Council members Kristine Tooker, Bret Gordon and Michael Corbally voted for it.
The proposal calls for bars to pay fees based on their maximum occupancy and the amount of time they want to stay open past midnight.
The ordinance (see attached PDF for full copy) states:
"The granting of any extension from the holder of a Plenary Retail Consumption
License shall be conditioned upon the license holder remitting to the Borough the following amounts:
- 30 minutes, $25.00 per person based on the maximum occupancy level allowed
- 60 minutes, $50.00 per person based on the maximum occupancy level allowed
- 90 minutes, $75.00 per person based on the maximum occupancy level allowed
- 120 minutes. $100.00 per person based on the maximum occupancy level allowed."
When the matter was discussed at the March 6 meeting, Barrella had said if an establishment has an occupancy rate of 100, it would cost $10,000 per year to stay open until 2 a.m. on a regular basis.
He said, for example, that Frankie's, on Route 35, has an occupancy rate of 150, so it would have to pay $15,000 per year to stay open until 2 a.m.
Ron Gasiorowski, an attorney for Jenkinson's Boardwalk and Martell's Tiki Bar and Martell's Sea Breeze, said, even before the vote, that the measure would be challenged legally if it is ultimately adopted on second reading.
"My clients' position is that the ordinances are illegal and invalid," he said, referring to the ordinance regarding bar closings and an ordinance for a parking plan (see second attached PDF).
Councilman William Mayer, who is also an attorney, asked Gasiorowski, "Can you specify why you think they are illegal and invalid?"
"I'm not going to specify now," Gasiorowski replied. "If they are passed on second reading, they will be challenged."
He also said, "I was here last year when Rice Krispies was discussed. My clients were in meetings and tried to be part of the solution rather than solely blamed as the problem."
Rice Krispies was a plan that called for police overtime last summer to tackle a sharp spike in crime, criminal mischief and noise complaints in District 4, the part of town closest to the section of the boardwalk where there are bars and night clubs.
At the time, a committee of boardwalk business owners and elected officials was established to try to work out solutions to the problems.
Resident Ben DiSpoto then got up at the microphone and said those meetings had "no results," a sentiment that has also been expressed by Barrella.
"Give this a chance," DiSpoto told the council before the vote. "If they don't like closing at midnight, they can pay a fee for more bar hours."
The ordinance would apply to all restaurants and bars in Point Beach that serve alcohol, not only to boardwalk businesses.
Municipal Attorney Sean Gertner said during the meeting that if council wanted to modify bar-closing hours, it would be best to do so for the entire town "rather than picking and choosing."
The issue was one of many at the meeting at Borough Hall that went on for a few hours and had a crowd overflowing out side and rear doors because of the ordinance regarding bar hours as well as separate measures for two different parking plans and other issues.
Anthony Storino, an owner of Jenkinson's, and David and Scott Bassinder, former and current owners of Martell's, respectively, and a number of their employees, were in the audience, but did not speak at the microphone.
Several other business owners spoke against the earlier bar closings, while a handful of residents living in or near District 4 said they supported it.
Tom Highton, a Parkway resident, seemed to hit on the crux of the tension in Point Beach when he said, "I get upset when I hear people say this is a tourist town. It's not. It's a residential community."
Highton said he favored the earlier bar closings, as well as the parking plan restricting non-resident parking in District 4.
The District 4 parking plan, which was also introduced Tuesday night, with the same yes and no votes as the bar closing proposal, affords each taxpaying address in town five parking passes. The ordinance states:
"Parking in District Four in non-metered spaces shall be restricted to those licensed, registered and insured vehicles displaying a valid placard between the hours of 12:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. beginning the Monday before Memorial Day and lasting until the Monday after Labor Day."
Highton said the combination of the earlier bar closings and restricted parking may help what he describes as deteriorating conditions in District 4.
"It's crazy in front of my house at night," he said. "The focus needs to be on the residents. We are first. District 4 is the section most impacted by crime."
Gordon and Tooker both said they were voting for the ordinance for earlier bar closings, or fee payments, even though they hoped it would serve as a starting point for working out solutions with boardwalk businesses.
Gordon said, "I do not care for the current language in this. I believe it's a mistake to impose earlier hours on any of our bars."
He said he was voting for it, despite his reservations, because he hoped it would be a starting point towards the businesses working out a plan to pay their "fair share for police services, a cost that is out of whack for the size of our town."
Reid said, "I really can't believe what I'm hearing tonight. You're voting for an ordinance, but you don't like the wording? The wording is what we're voting on. You're saying you're going to negotiate? Negotiate with who? We're telling all the bars in town they're going to have to close earlier or pay more. And you're going to negotiate with them?"
"We talked about this behind closed doors," said Gordon to Reid, with a degree of exasperation. "Your grandstanding won't do any good, so just vote no and get it over with."
Reid elaborated a bit more, voted no and Barrella voted yes.
When asked after the meeting to react to Gasiorowski's threat to sue, Barrella said, "Mr. Gasiorowski is a lawyer and he's a good one. What was he going to say?"
Last year, when the topic came up about possible earlier last calls or closings, Barrella had said he had a concern that inebriated bar patrons in Point Beach may get in their cars at midnight to drive to other towns where bars were still serving, thereby putting themselves and others at risk.
When asked after the Tuesday night meeting if he still had that concern, he said, emphatically, "Yes, I do. I also said last year that if we decide to do this, it's because our backs are up against the wall. And I had said that if we do this, it's on their heads because that means we've been stonewalled."
By "their heads," he was referring to boardwalk business owners who he said have not come up with any plan to help make this summer better than last summer.
He said the ordinance for earlier bar closings, or fees paid, along with the parking plan to limit non-residents parking in District 4, are steps being taken to help prevent this summer from being like last summer.