Point Beach Council, citing ongoing negotiations with bar owners, voted unanimously on Tuesday night to table an ordinance that would close bars early or collect fees from them.
The ordinance sets fees to stay open past midnight based on maximum occupancy.
Councilman Bret Gordon said that he and Councilmen William Mayer and Michael Corbally have been meeting with owners of Jenkinson's and Martell's, negotiating for a solution acceptable to all sides.
He said that while those negotiating sessions involve only the two boardwalk businesses, he has also spoken to owners of smaller bars and restaurants.
Resident Ben Dispoto, a resident on Parkway, berated the council for taking too long to take a vote either on the ordinance or another measure that would help control problems stemming from alcohol, such as the spike in crime last summer.
"We've been talking about this since last August," Dispoto said.
Mayor Vincent Barrella responded, "I believe by the next meeting or the first meeting in May (May 1), we'll have a resolution to this or we'll have an ordinance."
"I'm concerned that you're saying maybe May, because that's a month away," DiSpoto said, in an exasperated tone.
"We're further along than we've ever been," Gordon said. "We're moving forward trying to craft something not only in the best interest of the taxpayers, but also for the businesses in town."
Marilou Halvorsen, Jenkinson's marketing director, was in attendance at the meeting and got up to leave a while after the vote to table. Attorneys for Jenkinson's had left after the vote to table.
When asked outside the meeting if the vote to table is a good sign for Jenkinson's, she said she didn't know.
"But anytime you're going to implement a serious ordinance, you should think about it in-depth because it affects a lot of businesses," she said. "You want to look into all of the long-term ramifications."
She said she has been in on the negotiations, but said she cannot discuss specifics at this point.
After the meeting, Barrella said the talks with businesses are "a means of addressing problems that happened last summer for the benefit of the residents and the businesses."
During the meeting, Dave Cavagnaro, a resident who lives on Parkway, asked Gordon if he has met with all affected businesses. Gordon replied that he has not met with all, but has met with small and large businesses.
The decision to consider the early bar ordinance was not sudden. It came from months of discussion during and after last summer, which police describe as the summer with the highest crime rate on weekends in the past 17 years.
It also came from a long-running disagreement about whether Jenkinson's Boardwalk should pay for special event fees for some of their larger events which some on council have said could help pay for summer police services.
The Chamber of Commerce pays special event fees for its annual Festival of the Sea in September to help pay for police coverage and also directly pays off-duty municipal public works employees to clean up afterwards.
When Gordon was asked after the meeting if the issue of special event fees is also being discussed at the meetings, he said, "We're bundling a lot of things together to come up with a good solution for the municipal side and the business side.
"I can't get into specifics now because the negotiations are ongoing," he added. "But we're having good sessions. I think both sides are learning from each other."
An ordinance has been on the books requiring such fees, but Jenkinson's has not paid them. Halvorsen has said the company will not pay fees for events that are part of Jenkinson's conducting their normal course of business.
Lucille Buonocore, who lives in the Harbor Head condominium complex, near the boardwalk on the north end, asked Councllman Tim Lurie if he has a conflict of interest voting on boardwalk matters since he had testified for Jenkinson's in litigation with Harbor Head.
"You were a witness for Jenkinson's in that case and that case is still going on, so should you be voting on this?" she asked.
Lurie replied that he had, in his professional capacity as an engineer with DW Smith Associates, testified regarding historical photographs about the historical use of the Jenkinson's property on the north end.
"It had nothing to do with liquor licenses," he said. "And my part of it was over two years ago. I've asked attorneys if I have a conflict and they've said no."