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A nasty dispute over how much responsibility bars in a popular Jersey shore town have to keep their patrons quiet and well-behaved after last call has been largely laid to rest — thanks in part to Superstorm Sandy.
Point Pleasant Beach has reached an agreement with the owners of Jenkinson's Boardwalk to drop a proposed midnight bar closing law in return for the company ending lawsuits against the town. Jenkinson's also will contribute up to $1 million to help rebuild the storm-damaged boardwalk.
The widely publicized dispute brought Point Pleasant Beach national attention — but not the kind it wanted as it sought to defend a family-friendly atmosphere while trying not to damage one of the pillars of its tourism business.
While settlement talks had started before the Oct. 29 storm hit, causing widespread damage to this and many other Jersey shore towns, Sandy may have helped expedite an agreement, said Toby Wolf, a spokeswoman for Jenkinson's, the town's largest taxpayer and employer.
"It definitely helped push everyone toward wanting to get it resolved faster," she said. "With everything that everyone in this town has gone through, (we wanted) to have one less thing to worry about. There was a lot of tension back and forth. But the spirit that came after the storm, everyone coming together to help each other, kind of went along with that."
Mayor Vincent Barrella said a settlement would have been reached even if there had not been a devastating storm. But he said the trauma from the storm might have helped nudge things along.
"It just would have taken longer, and the angst would have gone on," the mayor said. "Perhaps I saw (the bar owners) in a different light, and maybe they see me differently now, and realize the goal hasn't been to destroy their businesses."
At issue was what borough officials — and many residents — say was a worsening quality of life in neighborhoods nearest the boardwalk and its four bars. Many residents complained of bar patrons returning to their cars in the wee hours of the morning, screaming, fighting, urinating and even defecating on their lawns or porches, and leaving trash and liquor bottles strewn about.
Point Pleasant Beach asked the bars to help pay for the cost of added police patrols near the boardwalk, but the two sides were unable to agree on an amount. The town also restricted overnight parking in some neighborhoods to residents-only during the summer, further angering the bars and some charter-fishing businesses who said their customers couldn't park near the boats.
The matters wound up in a tangle of lawsuits, and state liquor regulators put the early bar closing law on hold last summer.
In a deal reached last month, Jenkinson's agreed to drop its litigation against the town, but another bar operator, Martell's, is still suing over the parking restrictions.
Tuesday night, the council took the first step toward repealing the midnight bar closing law by a 6-0 vote. A final vote is scheduled for Feb. 19.
Dave Cavagnaro, one of the most vocal residents in favor of cracking down on rowdy bar patrons, applauded the deal, adding last summer was noticeably better than years past.
"Last summer was incredibly better," he said, crediting the parking restrictions that kept late-night revelers away from his neighborhood. "The neighbors all raved about having the ability to actually sleep with their windows open at night on occasion."
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC