NJ Shore Town May Move Up Last Call or Charge Bars

Residents in the Jersey shore beachfront community say rowdy behavior by bar patrons is getting worse

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    AP
    On May 6, 2012, the day after Cinco de Mayo celebrations, a beer bottle sits wedged into the fence of a homeowner near the Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. boardwalk. The town is taking a number of steps to combat what is sees as rowdy behavior by tourists drawn to boardwalk bars, including banning non-resident parking in areas nearest the bars from midnight to 6 a.m.

    Living two blocks from the boardwalk, Dave Cavagnaro is used to hearing noise at night. But the sounds coming from his yard one summer night were unusual: They were coming from a couple having sex up against the side of his house.

    "Get the hell out of here!" he yelled at them. "Get a room!"

    It was only one example of what residents in this Jersey shore beachfront community say is a problem that is getting steadily worse: rowdy behavior by patrons leaving the four boardwalk bars and raising a ruckus in the residential neighborhoods where they parked.

    The borough is fighting back, prohibiting nonresidents from parking in neighborhoods nearest the bars from midnight to 6 a.m., starting in July. But it is threatening even stronger move: closing all bars in the town at midnight unless they agree to pay an additional fee based on their occupancy limits, with the money going to fund additional police patrols.

    A decision could come Tuesday.

    "11:30 at night is when the bar crowd comes in, just as I'm going to bed," said Cavagnaro, who has lived here for 12 years. "2, 3 a.m. as they get out is when there's the screaming and fights. The urination used to be just at night. I've seen guys go in the bushes by my house. Now it's during the daytime. They get right out of their cars and pee on the lawn."

    Mayor Vincent Barrella says that's no exaggeration.

    "Last year was pretty bad. We had to take the remarkable step of amending our public urination ordinance to include prohibiting public defecation," the mayor said.

    Late last month, a couple was arrested for having sex on the beach (the conduct, not the drink — although they also were charged with drinking in public.)

    "Imagine the worst thing you would want your children to see, and that's what was transpiring on the beach — at 7 p.m.," Councilman Bret Gordon said. "And these are the off months. Yay."

    The boardwalk businesses, led by Jenkinson's Boardwalk and Martell's Tiki Bar, have offered the borough $161,000 per year for five years toward the cost of additional patrols. But they're also suing to block the parking restrictions, which in turn is complicating efforts to reach an agreement on voluntary payments to cover the added police patrols. A vote by the council on one or more of the ordinances could come Tuesday.

    And while the boardwalk merchants say they want to help solve the problem, they also feel picked on. Jenkinson's is by far the largest employer and taxpayer in Point Pleasant Beach. Spokeswoman Marilou Halvorsen said her company employs about 1,500 people at the height of summer, and pays property taxes approaching $1 million a year.

    It also removes its own garbage, employs a 40- to 50-person private security force, picks up the borough's boardwalk garbage and maintains the public restrooms there, she said.

    "If quality-of-life issues are upsetting residents, we certainly want to address that," Halvorsen said. "We're neighbors. What's good for the town is good for the boardwalk. If there's a reasonable request, we're more than willing to be helpful. But not to the point where we're being taken advantage of. What is a reasonable number?"

    The parking and bar closing ordinances "are very targeted toward the boardwalk," she added. "We are actually a big target."

    Ron Gasiorowski, a lawyer representing the boardwalk bars, said in a letter to the council his clients are being unfairly blamed for societal problems.

    "Everybody seems to accept the fact that the culture of America is changing, and that people generally are not as respectful of other people's property as they once were," he wrote. "Assuming that this is something that is being caused by Jenkinson's/Martell's is unfair and incorrect. As responsible citizens and taxpayers, they are making a good faith effort to assist in the remediation of this problem."

    Barrella said the total amount that would be raised under the new bar assessments would be about $186,000 a year. It would pay for additional special police officers to patrol the boardwalk and residential neighborhoods during the summer and address many of the quality-of-life issues that have long irked residents here.

    "We have enough noise," said Lucille Buonocore, who has a condo on the boardwalk near one of the bars. "We can't sleep. Fights, people throwing bottles at each other. We should get some consideration. We are the people that live here."

    Yet the boardwalk businesses have their supporters, too. They tend to dismiss complaints from residents about noise from departing bar customers, saying the residents knew what they were doing when the bought their homes.

    Opponents "have to realize what was there," said Dan Friendly, who lives on Ocean Avenue and also hears late-night noise. "They bought houses near a boardwalk."

    Friendly also said word is spreading in the rest of the state that Point Pleasant Beach might not be as welcoming to tourists as it once was.

    "I'm also hearing from so many people that they're cancelling their plans to come out here for the summer to spend their money in this town," he told the mayor at a recent council meeting. "The money we get in this town from tourism — you have a naive idea of what it is: Come to the beach, get an ice cream cone, watch the fireworks and go home. That's not what it is."

    Barrella said in an interview several days later that everyone is welcome in Point Pleasant Beach, so long as they behave themselves.

    "We have a need to provide a safe and clean atmosphere," he said. "If we don't, we're going to lose that reputation as a family-friendly place. Are we in danger of losing it? I think we are. We don't want to become that stereotypical 'Jersey Shore' community.

    "The boardwalk, the rides, the family atmosphere are something we want to cultivate," Barrella said. "But people coming into town at midnight, pounding down six Jell-O shots, I don't want that kind of tourism."