The Point Beach Council narrowly rejected an effort Tuesday night to keep the current 2 a.m. closing time at local bars.
Instead, an ordinance that imposes a midnight closing time will go into effect on July 1 (see attached PDF).
The council voted 3-2 to not give bars the option to pay a fee, based on maximum occupancy, to stay open until 2 a.m.
Councilmembers William Mayer and Stephen Reid voted in favor of giving bars the option to stay open until 2 a.m. Councilmember Tim Lurie was absent. Councilmembers Bret Gordon, Michael Corbally and Kristine Tooker voted no.
"A lot of people in this town are going to be hurt by this," Reid said before casting his vote to approve the amendment. Before voting he also questioned attorney Sean Gertner as to whether or not the amendment was actually lawful — a question the councilmember previously asked at an earlier meeting.
Gertner maintained the motion was "enforceable," despite a May 14 letter from the Department of Community Affairs to Mayor Vincent Barrella, which said the ordinance "may be unlawful."
During April and May, the town and boardwalk businesses had several private negotiation sessions, 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.
But Barrella said despite actions to try to resolve things without the earlier closings, businesses rejected the option of instituting earlier last calls, disallowing stackable drinks and better monitoring alcohol consumption.
"We need to realize it's not a pro-boardwalk or pro-resident issue. We're one town," Mayer said. "We're a tourism town, and it needs to be controlled, not shut down. The impact that this will have on our economy is extreme."
Point Beach resident Robert Dixon said if the town closes the bars earlier, it will end up shutting the whole town down after midnight. "If no one wants to come here because there is nothing to do here anymore, you're limiting the access of our town," he said.
Barrella said the earlier closings are a result of people being "unwilling to make adjustments to avoid the problems. I think it will enhance our tourism business and bring families back. But people are making every effort to sabotage what we're trying to accomplish."
Gordon made note of the "record number of arrests" made over Memorial Day Weekend: 226 arrests, 180 borough violations, up from 144 in 2011; and 46 criminal violations, up from 44 the year before.
Jenkinson's and Martell's have appealed last month's ordinance to close bars at midnight. They filed the appeal with the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control and now the town has an opportunity to respond to the appeal.
The two largest boardwalk bars have argued all along that closing the bars at midnight will unfairly hurt their businesses.