By Liz Sheehan
SEA BRIGHT – Under a noise nuisance ordinance approved by the Borough Council at its Tuesday meeting, Tommy Bonfiglio, the owner of Tommy’s Tavern & Tap said he could wind up in prison.
“Four tickets and Tommy is going to go to jail,” Bonfiglio said, referring to the portion of the revised code that states the fourth noise offense could result in imprisonment for as many as 90 days.
The first three offenses would result in monetary fines.
“I am an asset to the town,” said Bonfiglio, referring to the popularity of his restaurant. “They are a residential community in a business district,” he said, referring to the Nautilus a condominium adjacent to Tommy’s, whose residents have complained about the noise from his restaurant.
The town’s Master Plan encouraged the establishment of a vibrant business district in the borough, and Bonfiglio invested $5 million in the restaurant, he said.
“The issue is everything that happens after 10 p.m.,” Mayor Dina Long said.
Bonfiglio questioned the 10 p.m. time after which noises were regulated. “Who goes to bed at 10 p.m.?” he asked.
He said, “I’m getting tickets day and night,” referring to his fear that there will be many complaints about noise from his restaurant.
He suggested the Nautilus residents could place fans or air conditioners in their windows and lessen the noise at night, but they told him they wanted to sleep with their windows open. It will now be up to the police to determine what constitutes a noise violation in some cases. Under the revision of the town’s noise nuisance code, if the noise cannot be measured by a decibel meter, the police will make the decision if it’s a violation.
But residents can still make a civil complaint and bring the matter to court even if the police do not consider the noise a violation. The new code establishes the permissible decibel levels for different noises in the borough, but said proof of a violation in some instances will be determined by “plainly audible means.” That determination would be made 50 feet from the property line of the noise source or within the property if the complainant and noise nuisance share common property.
Although many of the noises designated by the code can be measured on a meter, human voices cannot, according to the borough police, Councilman Marc Leckstein said at the meeting.
After questions from some attending the meeting asking if the borough could use different decibel meters that could register human voices, Police Chief John Sorrentino said the police department used the meter required by the state, which they are trained to use and which are calibrated yearly.
Janice Pattison is a resident of the Nautilus condominiums, adjacent to Tommy’s Tavern + Tap. The condominiums occupants have frequently complained about noise from the restaurant’s outdoor area, which is on the other side of the fence separating the two properties. Pattison said Tommy’s property line is 16 feet away from her residence. She questioned how that would be handled under the ordinance’s 50-feet minimum.
Pattison said if the police officer went in the back of her building to determine the noise level, the building would block the noise.
“The officer is not going to put a building between him and the sound source,” Councilman Kevin Birdsall said, but would be able to use other places 50 feet from Tommy’s property lines to assess the noise.
Borough Attorney Roger McLaughlin said the revision of the code was “a borough-wide ordinance,” and not designed for a specific location.
Birdsall said he wanted to maintain the town’s atmosphere as a lively summer place to come to, but not on the level of Belmar. He said the ordinance gave the residents the chance to complain and also gave the owners of establishments the ability to “self-police” the noise. He conceded the fines were not going to stop noise problems, but possible jail time could.
Council members Leckstein, Birdsall, and Jack Keeler voted for the ordinance, but Charlie Rooney voted “no.”
“I think it will be very difficult for our police department to make the decisions on their own,” he said, referring to not being able to use decibel meters to measure voice complaints.
Leckstein said Wednesday if the police declined to file a complaint about a noise if called to the scene by a resident, the resident could file a civil complaint and use any methods to prove to a judge that a violation had occurred, including but not limited to a cellphone, tape recorder, or witnesses.
After the meeting, Thomas Pattison, Jennifer’s husband, said about the new ordinance “I hope it works out. The proof is in the pudding.”
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