Joe Leotta, a resident of the Exchange Place area, told member of the City Council on Wednesday that he loves going to the festivals held near where he lives, but said that some restrictions should be put on them.
“Downtown is a different place from what it was seven years ago,” he said during the public portion of the City Council meeting. He said he supported an effort to put more restrictions on the duration and noise level of the festivals.
He said festivals on weekends usually go from noon to 10 p.m., and residents living in the area are often subject to high volume noise for the whole time.
“It’s nine hours of high volume that we can’t get away from,” he said. “Other people get to go to festivals, and then get to go home. But we are home, and the volume is so loud we can’t have conversation over dinner; we can’t watch TV. We can’t sleep.”
He urged the city to reduce the volume levels connected with these events.
“We enjoy these festivals, I go to every one of them, I like the different cultures and the foods, but you have to bring down the noise level.”
The City Council has proposed an ordinance that would limit the time of festivals conducted along the riverfront near Exchange Place.
The ordinance would force festivals to close down operations earlier and reduce the noise level that has drawn complaints from residents living in the area.
In proposing the ordinance, Councilwoman Candice Osborn said the Exchange Place area has changed over the last few years, becoming more residential and more densely populated.
“None of the events that take place at Exchange Place go past 10 p.m., most end at 9 p.m.” – Maryanne Kelleher, Jersey City Cultural Affairs
The ordinance would require weekend events to cease at 10 p.m. instead of midnight, and would end the sale of alcohol an hour before closing rather than a half hour as is currently the practice.
How far reaching is the ordinance?
Councilman Khemraj Ramchal questioned how this would affect some of the festivals held elsewhere in the city, some of which go into early morning hours – this includes Indian, Puerto Rican and Irish festivals held on Saturdays or Sundays.
Osborne said the restriction would be limited to the Exchange Place area.
She said festivals elsewhere are usually only held once a year in a particular area, but the festivals in Exchange Place are scheduled every weekend during the summer, and impact the residents that live there.
Council President Rolando Lavarro said the current ordinance cuts off festivals at midnight, and that the council votes to extend hours of other festivals as they come up.
Osborne said the alternative to limiting the hours is to limit the number of events held around Exchange Place.
“I want to have those festivals,” she said.
The waterfront festivals started in 1996 and do provide ethnic richness. But the nature of the area has changed since then with more residential buildings
A tough balance
Maryanne Kelleher, director of Jersey City Cultural Affairs, called it a difficult balance between hosting a successful event and keeping residents happy.
She said she has worked with organizers to help modify some of the negative impacts, and has modified some of these to address local needs. She said in the past, she has arranged meetings with neighborhood associations like those of Paulus Hook to get everybody to work together on the issues.
“None of the events that take place at Exchange Place go past 10 p.m., most end at 9 p.m.,” said Kelleher. “We discourage people from going to midnight. We do not want irate residents. We are all one city.”
She said the police have the ability to shut down a festival at any time.
“Right now we close down alcohol sales and music a half hour before the event is scheduled to end,” she said.
The new ordinance would increase this to an hour, which Kelleher said could cause events to lose money from sales during that extra half hour.
The ordinance affects the Exchange Place area because of the high number of permits issued from Christopher Columbus Drive south to Essex Street and from Washington Street to the waterfront. The ordinance limits hours of operation from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and from 10 p.m. to 8 p.m. for events held from Sunday to Thursday. The 8 p.m. shut off would hurt some events currently scheduled from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Kelleher said.
Kelleher said the ordinance would force vendors to stop selling at 7 p.m. She said these were designed as after work events and people need time to get home before going to them.
The ordinance would allow events in other part of the city to go from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday.
The ordinance would require musical activities to cease an hour before the close of the event.
Councilman Michael Yun was also concerned about food sales, especially those that require cooking coals that would need time to be properly extinguished prior to being disposed of.
Kelleher said her staff during summer events goes around to vendors to cease cooking new food a half hour prior to the festival end.
Keller said she would like to get the organizers of these festivals to meet with those neighborhood groups to work out the issues, noting that there are already agreements in place to restrict negative impacts.
Councilwoman Diane Coleman, however, said the practices recommended by cultural affairs only differ slightly from those in the ordinance.
Lavarro said he supported the ordinance because it set firm guidelines.
“People can interpret things in many ways, but the law spells it out,” he said.
Councilman Daniel Rivera called it “a tough situation,” said the director of public safety, should hold a meeting with groups. He and Ramchal appeared to have concerns about this affecting other festivals elsewhere in the city.
“We have tried very hard, remind groups to respect neighbors,” Kelleher said. “We have a great love for diversity of the city.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.