A divided City Council has delayed introducing an ordinance that would put restrictions on nightclub activity in downtown Jersey City so that an informal committee can look at the measure more closely.
Councilman James Solomon attempted to introduce the ordinance at the July 17 meeting, but could not get enough votes. An informal committee of Solomon, and Councilmen Daniel Rivera and Jermaine Robinson will review the ordinance and try to come to a consensus.
Rivera and Robinson said they are concerned about the impact of the ordinance.
Peace and quiet vs. profit
Several neighborhood associations have met with Solomon and petitioned him to find a way to deal with some of the problems associated with nightclubs. But officials of the Historic Downtown Special Improvement District has expressed opposition to the ordinance as it is currently written.
Noise and other issues have plagued the Newark Avenue area ever since the city closed it off to make a pedestrian plaza three years ago. Rooftop activities have created noise problems for nearby residents, as have after-hour antics by those coming from the bars when they close.
While city zoning does not permit nightclubs, a number of establishments have used a legal loophole to operate. Solomon said he doesn’t want to ban these, but to limit how many of these establishments can operate.
“At this moment, there are no restrictions,” he said, during an interview after the meeting. “But we need to have some regulations in place for the future.”
Rivera said he had spoken to members of the SID and owners of businesses, and that the committee needs to study the potential impact before it implements anything.
Robinson, a small business owner elsewhere in Jersey City, said he is sympathetic to the business owners.
“People invest $2 million in a business and expect to get their investment back,” he said.
“What we’re trying to do is find a balance between night life there and the neighborhood,” Solomon said. “There is a benefit to downtown having the nightclubs there. But we can’t have an unlimited number of nightclubs. We have to space them out.”
He said the original zoning was for restaurants, not nightclubs.
“This is a quality of life issue,” he said. “There is a big difference down there between what went on before the pedestrian walkway and what is happening now.”
He said neighborhood associations are concerned about the nightlife spreading deeper into residential neighborhoods.
New proposed rules
The ordinance would put limits on the number of entertainment permits issued by the city, and would cover the entire Newark Avenue Special Improvement District located within the Historic Downtown SID.
“Most of these clubs are located nearer to the PATH,” Solomon said. “But there are some on residential borders.”
Since the mall opened, many of the restaurants have applied for entertainment licenses to play live or recorded music.
“This large concentration of businesses with entertainment licenses along Newark Avenue Pedestrian Mall has the potential to alter the original intent of the mall as a place for pedestrians to gather and turn it into a primarily nightclub driven entertainment district,” the ordinance said.
Police calls are ‘way up
Police calls have increases in the area, including a 194 percent increase in “personal conflict” calls, a 450 percent increase in complaints about loud music, and 177 percent increase in calls regarding street fights. Calls about intoxicated people have also spiked, according to Solomon.
The ordinance would establish geographical limits to granting an entertainment license. While existing licenses will be honored under the provisions of the ordinance, no new licenses will be issued within 250 feet of a business with an existing license.
Entertainment within a business cannot be performed within 10 feet of an open door or window. The ordinance would also restrict noise levels between noon and 10 p.m. It would also create two classes of entertainment license, one for those with fewer than 100 people and another for those businesses with greater than 100. Outdoor entertainment would be prohibited except where specifically requested and approved by the city.
Solomon said he wanted to introduce the ordinance in order to start a discussion.
“What we have is a Goldilocks situation,” he said. “The neighborhood associations don’t think the ordinance is strong enough. The SID thinks it’s too tough. We are looking for a balance.”
He said there are about 13 establishments that operate either as full time or part time nightclubs which include live music or a DJ.
“Unless we put limits, we could see ten more there,” he said. “I don’t want to shut down these places. I don’t even want to stop the roof top. But we need to find balance. We need to sit with the business owners and the members of the neighborhood associations to come up with a solution.”
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