Sea Isle City loosened its laws regulating alcohol this past summer, thrilling bar owners and patrons but angering plenty of nearby residents.
The city, like many shore resorts, has been trying to attract both families and young people looking to party and spend money. Its popular bars sit in between an amusement park for children and a promenade lined by arcades and gift shops.
"We believe we have a unique community here," said City Council President William Kehner. "We think we have a family town with a nightlife."
But some Sea Isle locals think the city is ceding too much clout to the downtown bars and restaurants that they say are contributing to public drunkenness and disruptive behavior.
"Sea Isle City is slowly turning into a New Orleans at night," said Paul Spadafora, one homeowner among dozens who sent letters to the city complaining about the issue.
City Council approved an ordinance in March extending the time establishments can serve alcohol outdoors from 11 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. — the same time most bars in town also stop serving alcohol indoors.
The outdoor alcohol ordinance included a provision requiring the council to review the law after a year, and the governing body is already doing so.
After its trial summer, opinion on the law is fairly split.
The city has received 60 letters on the matter, 44 opposing and 16 supporting the law. At a City Council workshop meeting on Tuesday, 21 people spoke on the matter, and about 18 of those people spoke in favor of the law.
A group of concerned citizens also circulated a letter through town opposing the ordinance, and the Sea Isle City Taxpayers Association, or SICTA, posted it on its website.
"This ordinance does little to improve the quality of life for our residents and owners," the letter reads. "It is almost impossible to not notice or hear the noise these outdoor establishments make, particularly if you are walking in the downtown area on Landis Avenue and along the promenade, the heart of our city."
SICTA President Joe McDevitt said he did not have a personal opinion on the matter because he lives about 20 blocks from the city’s downtown. He was at Tuesday’s meeting and said he is content that council is being open with the public.
“I would say, overall, the city did a fantastic job getting everyone's input,” McDevitt said.
Only three bars took advantage of the new law this year — La Costa Lounge, The Ocean Drive and The Springfield Inn — but each draws hundreds to more than a thousand people over the course of a summer weekend day.
The Press of Atlantic City tried to contact co-owners of those three establishments — Jimmy Bennett, Ralph Pasceri and Terry Eidenberg, respectively — but they did not return phone calls requesting comment for this story.
Mayor Len Desiderio has an exterior area at the bar he owns, KIX McNutley's, but he said he does not serve alcohol out there late at night.
The main reason: he thinks it will be too noisy for people staying in his nearby motel.
He still said he was generally supportive of the ordinance, though, and thinks bar owners should work out any conflicts with neighbors.
"It definitely gives the customer another option where to go and gives the bar and restaurant owner another option to offer their patrons," Desiderio said.
But people like Spadafora think the ordinance has harmed the city more than helped. The letter on SICTA’s website recommends changing the law so bars have to stop serving alcohol outdoors at 10 p.m., even earlier than before.
"The bars run the town and they get what they want," Spadafora said. "There are only a few of them but they have taken over the atmosphere and nightlife of Sea Isle to the detriment of the whole community."
Kehner said at least one bar owner predicted that if they circulated a letter of their own asking for support of the law then the response would overwhelm any opposition.
"The council now is going to digest and hopefully at our next council meeting during pending business we'll have another discussion and try to resolve it," Kehner said.
He said that the solution may be a more specific law with better enforcement. The ordinance currently says an exterior area where alcohol is served must have a 6-foot-high fence and patrons must enter and exit through only the main entrance, but residents have complained that not every bar has complied.
The next council meeting is scheduled at 10 a.m. on Oct. 9.
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