POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. (AP) -- A showdown is brewing between boardwalk bars and this popular Jersey shore town over how late watering holes should be able to stay open, and what level of responsibility the businesses have for the actions of their patrons.
The bars want the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control to block an ordinance Point Pleasant Beach enacted that would force the bars to shut down at midnight, starting in July.
The Borough Council offered the bars a way out: paying additional fees based on their level of occupancy in order to continue to stay open until 2 a.m., with the extra money funding additional police patrols in residential neighborhoods that have long complained of late-night rowdiness by bar patrons returning to their cars.
Things could get somewhat clearer Tuesday night, when the council is scheduled to vote on that ordinance.
In their appeal to the state, Jenkinson's Boardwalk and Martell's Tiki Bar call the extra fees "extortion" and call on the alcohol division to block implementation of the law until its director can fully assess the situation and issue a ruling.
At issue is Point Pleasant Beach's status as one of New Jersey's most popular family resorts. City officials and many residents worry that continued instances of fighting, public urination and defecation, vomiting and screaming by tipsy bar patrons in the wee hours of the morning will drive away family tourism.
But the bars note their economic contribution to the town, and say they feel the town wants to take advantage of them financially.
The boardwalk bars and the borough had been discussing a financial settlement to pay for the extra patrols, with the bars offering $800,000 over five years. But the offer was not accepted, and the bars filed their appeal June 5.
Ed McGlynn, a lawyer representing Jenkinson's and Martell's, said the filing of the appeal does not necessarily mean that a voluntary settlement is out of reach. But he said it had to be filed because the midnight closing law is roughly three weeks from taking effect.
"We're always willing to have discussions," he said. "But we filed this because we think they are wrong, and because we are under time constraints."
He said 22 other bars and restaurants in Point Pleasant Beach, including many far from the beach or boardwalk, also will be hurt by the midnight closing law. The appeal papers asserted that employees would have to be fired if the early closing law took effect and reduced the bars' earnings.
The bars, a marine owner, several charter fishing boats and individual residents have also sued, seeking to block an ordinance that would restrict overnight parking on most streets in neighborhoods near the bars to residents-only.
Further complicating things is an opinion from the state Division of Community Affairs that the additional fees Point Pleasant Beach wants to charge the bars in order to stay open later might be illegal.
The council is to vote Tuesday night on an ordinance that would allow the bars to stay open until 2 a.m. if they pay extra fees. Mayor Vincent Barrella said the total amount that would be raised under the new bar assessments would be about $186,000 a year.
He would not predict whether the bars' appeal to the state would result in the council keeping the bar closing time at midnight, which will take effect July 1 without further action.
But he did note the appeal explicitly acknowledged the borough's right to set the hours of operation for its bars.
"They admit we have the right to close the bars," he said. "But because we tried to find a middle ground and didn't go straight to closing the bars, they now say we can't exercise the very same right they acknowledge that we have. That's straight out of 'Alice In Wonderland.'"
The bars' appeal claims the ordinance was enacted "in bad faith, for an illegitimate purpose" and should be set aside for that and other reasons.
Zach Hosseini, a spokesman for the alcohol division, said Point Pleasant Beach has 10 days to respond to the appeal. If an agreement is not reached by then, the division plans to act quickly on the request, he added.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC.