A new piece of legislation being proposed in the state Senate that would allow villages to enforce early pub closing times is said to be one option to help Port Jefferson with its troubles downtown on weekend nights. But not everyone agrees, and instead favor greater police presence and active enforcement of village code to deter quality of life infractions and crime.
Although Suffolk police say that they are during peak times, residents are still concerned about the unruly crowds and want more to be done or else the village will go downhill fast.
“It’s bad,” admitted Mayor Margot Garant at a village board meeting on Monday evening.
Port Jefferson has changed over the years. It’s for tourists attracted to the beautiful views of the Long Island Sound, boutique shops, restaurants and its nightlife.
Some say that the late night visitors are the ones who make a mockery of the village’s provincial codes and bring up quality of life issues like public drunkenness, yelling, cursing, vandalism, littering and urinating in public.
“It’s the bars,” said Sandra Swenk at Monday’s village board meeting.
Swenk – a 52-year resident of the village who once served as Mayor – said that when she moved to Port Jefferson there were a lot less bars and saw a dramatic increase in their number in the last 20 years or so. The result, she said, is more people wandering around the village and residential areas where they park to avoid the metered lots doing things they shouldn’t.
Many locals say that they want their village back.
“We don’t want to feel like an armed camp,” resident Marge McCuen, said to a Suffolk Police officer at the meeting. “It’s good you’re here. I’m sorry it has to happen.”
Resident Lauren Hubbard said she’s ready to “throw up her hands” at what she sees.
“Beer bottles, drunk people parking on side streets,” she said of the crowd that invades the village every weekend.
Recently, New York State Senator Ken LaValle rode along with village Chief Constable Wally Tomaszewski and Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke to see what happens in Port Jefferson after dark.
“I think it was a real eye-opener,” LaValle told Patch in a recent phone conversation.
Besides touring parts of Port Jefferson Station and Upper Port, they spent some time downtown.
LaValle said that Chief Burke has the village on his radar now and with added police presence he thinks things will start to change.
“I’ll leave it to the authorities to develop their strategies to bring some order to make sure Port Jefferson maintains its village friendly atmosphere,” the senator said.
“It’s really unusual to have a state Senator do a ride along with your chief,” said Tomaszewski, highlighting the seriousness of the problem.
Village officials also brought up a new piece of legislation being proposed to allow villages throughout New York State to adopt local ordinances to close bars at 2 a.m.
The legislation was an idea generated in 2009 and prior Port Jefferson village officials had discussed it with the senator. According to LaValle, the legislation was put on the calendar this year but the Senate ran out of time to address it in the last session.
While some residents and officials might be behind this particular piece of legislation, others are not so quick to back it up.
“If all of New York State went along with it, I’d be all for it,” said Tommy Schafer, owner of two downtown establishments – and – and a member of the village’s Business Improvement District.
Schafer said that the law was a good idea but only if it was statewide. If only Port Jefferson village enforced the early closing time then all it would do is put local places out of business as patrons went elsewhere. He also said that he might take it up in court if the law passed.
“I don’t know if it would be grounds but I think a high percentage of the food and beverage industry would bring an immediate class action lawsuit,” he said.
Schafer said the solution to the problem is not closing the bars earlier, it's stopping the loitering by underage kids who don’t go into the bars having their own “parking lot parties” or people who engage what he calls “pre-gaming” before heading into the local pubs.
Code Chief Tomaszewski brought up the issue of “pre-gaming” at the last village board meeting and said it’s when people who go out on the town start drinking in their vehicles to avoid paying for more expensive drinks inside the bar.
Schafer said that stopping people from loitering in the parking lots would be the first place to start cleaning up the problem.
One difficulty that the village encounters is that code officers have no jurisdiction in the Brookhaven Town lots so people move over there to do their “pre-gaming.” Increasing Suffolk County Police presence can help with that problem as well as an agreement between Brookhaven and Port Jefferson for code officers to enforce those lots, according to Tomaszewski.
Police assured the community that they will see a greater presence with Suffolk’s COPE officers patrolling the village to enforce laws and deter people.
On the early-closing law, Schafer said he would welcome it if it was enforced across the board saying he’d also like to get home earlier after work.
“I’d be the happiest guy in the world,” he said.
LaValle brought up a bit of wisdom imparted on him when he was younger when discussing the legislation.
“My mother would remind us that nothing good happens after two o’clock in the morning,” he said.
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