Point Beach council voted on Tuesday night for bars in the area to close at midnight, two hours earlier than the current 2 a.m. closing time.
The ordinance, passed with a 3-3 vote with a tie breaker vote for the ordinance by the mayor, goes into effect on July 1.
The council also voted for preliminary approval for a second ordinance giving bars the option to pay fees to stay open until 2 a.m., which is the current closing time. However, councilmembers agreed to postpone the deadline for bars to request a later closing time from the town. That deadline had been May 24 but was moved to June 25.
The town and boardwalk businesses had several private negotiation sessions recently, with the hope that an agreement could avert the need for earlier bar closings.
Jenkinson's and Martell's offered a joint payment of $160,000 per year for five years, totalling to $800,000 and then the arrangement would be re-visited.
The tension in the small, seaside town, which has only 5,000 year-round residents, was pronounced, with employees saying it could hurt or even eliminate their jobs, and residents complaining about bar patrons urinating, defecating and dumping litter on their properties.
Aleta Weinstein, who lives in the oceanfront Harbor Head development, said she has not been able to keep her windows open for the past five summers because of the drunken patrons making noise in the middle of the night and defecating on her property.
Frank Kinneavy, owner of Frankie's Bar and Grill, on Route 35, told the council he has a unique perspective on how earlier bar closings affect a community.
He said when his other business, Rod's Tavern, in Sea Girt had to close at midnight in 1984, that only sent patrons speeding off to Manasquan to drink at bars there.
He said earlier bar closings create the problem of bar patrons driving out of Point Beach at midnight to go to drink at bars in other towns and, if they are staying in Point Beach, then driving back into town drunk.
"Closing bars at 12 will not solve any problems, it will only create a lot of problems," he said.
He said the mayor, council, bars, businesses and police need to work together to come up with solutions.
Councilmembers Michael Corbally and Bret Gordon spoke in favor of the plan. Gordon said negotiations between boardwalk businesses and governing body members were cordial, but a failure.
"The disappointing thing that came out of our last meeting was we asked the boardwalk to come up with a solid plan. Mr. Storinos and Mr. Bassinders, I believe your lawyers failed you in that regard," Gordon said to several members of the Storino family who were in the room, along with Scott Bassinder, Martell's owner.
"Now what do we do? Now the burden is on us to make a decision that is going to affect a lot of people. I haven't given up on negotiations, but I refuse to continue to kick this can down the road. The days are over when our residents continue to subsidize the extra police services" that are needed because of boardwalk bar patrons, Gordon said.
"I do not scoff at the fact that $800,000 is a generous offer, but I don't like that it's a finite plan. I heard Mr. Ramos' question and that has been my concern," he said.
Gordon said police statistics illustrate how the town's most problem-plagued time period is from midnight to 3 a.m. Over 42 percent of all citations written in the town over the entire year are written between midnight and 3 a.m., including in the summer.
Councilmember Tim Lurie said the debate about earlier bar closings that has stretched out over the past several months has divided and hurt the town. He said the local tourism industry brings in $3.2 million and that the town needs to work with the boardwalk businesses.
"I think we all need to work together, and I think this ordinance is a bad idea," Lurie said.
Councilmember William Mayer said he favored tabling ordinances and instead finalizing the agreement for the boardwalk businesses to pay $160,000 per year for a total of $800,000 for five years.
Councilmember Stephen Reid noted that there were TV news crews around the meeting room. He said the bad publicity is already hurting the town.
Reid said that because the town will have more special police officers this summer, the problems can be addressed through additional enforcement.
"We have enough cops to put one on every corner in District 4," which is an assertion that Councilmember Kristine Tooker has challenged, saying there will not be nearly enough officers to put a cop on every corner.
On Tuesday night, Tooker said, "We don't have a serious proposal with mechanisms in place to make it happen in perpetuity, beyond five years. If we pass this, we can always rescind it. Mr. Reid talks about the damage that has been done. What about the damage that has already been done because of the change in our clientele, the Jersey Shore crowd?"
Tooker said she hopes in the future the boardwalk bars can come up with a better plan, with mechanisms in place for payments to be made, and then the town can consider possibly rescinding the earlier closing.
Barrella, just before voting, said it seemed that a lot of the people speaking against the earlier bar closings, saying the tourism industry will be hurt, are actually talking about the alcohol industry, not the tourism industry.
He said bars need to do a better job serving alcohol responsibly.
"I think they really want to do that, I hope they want to do that," Barrella said.
Barrella said he did not like the fact that the boardwalk businesses filed a lawsuit against the new parking plan as they were entering into discussions with him, Mayer and Gordon. He said he was voting yes, but still hoped negotiations could resume to work out an alternative solution.
After the vote, Marilou Halvorsen said, "What's the point of negotiating now? They just voted to close the bars early."
She said the two sides "were so close" to reaching an agreement, noting that none of the councilmembers or the mayor had said the amount of $800,000 offered was too low.
When asked about assertions by some on council that the written offer did not include an explanation about any mechanisms for the money to be paid or other details, Halvorsen said, "It's up to the town to work out the mechanisms. We said we were making these payments for quality of life issues. Working out the details was up to them."
She said it would be up to the Storinos whether to pay fees to stay open until 2 a.m. or to consider other action.