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Ocean City curfew and other rules aimed at crowds of teenagers

Nov 10, 2023Nov 10, 2023

Starting the week of Father's Day weekend, as early as June 16, new rules are rolling out for Ocean City beachgoers — including adults — that local leaders hope will curb late-night teen activity in town that has left many boardwalk businesses up in arms.

These new city ordinances come on the heels of a Memorial Day weekend filled with young people and teenagers congregating in large groups along the Ocean City beaches and boardwalks, a trend that locals say isn't new to Ocean City in recent years. According to police, there were 999 incidents over the past weekend, the majority involving underage people, ranging from underage drinking, vandalism, assaults, shoplifting, and confiscation of weapons like knives, burglary tools, and a BB gun — up from 869 incidents last year.

In one incident that has especially angered local leaders, two municipal bathroom attendants tasked with cleaning public restrooms on the boardwalk were spit on while doing their duties. Both quit on the spot, according to city officials.

Business owners along the Ocean City boardwalk say they’ve reached a breaking point.

"You get overwhelmed with 20 kids coming into your store," said Abraham Romy, who witnessed teens lighting fireworks on the beach and experienced two cases of shoplifting at his boardwalk apparel shop, Blue Sky, over the weekend. "Sales are up, but so are thefts."

Ocean City Police Chief Jay Prettyman noted that this past weekend marked an uptick in fights and underage drinking from last year, which sent eight underage people to the hospital who were unconscious due to alcohol consumption. Additionally, the police chief pointed to parents who aren't fully aware of their children's activity as an issue, as one teen was found to have traveled from Connecticut to Ocean City, due to OCPD requiring a parent to pick up their children if they are caught breaking the law.

"Over the last couple of years, Memorial Day weekend has consistently gotten worse," said Prettyman. "Last Memorial Day weekend, we issued 632 curbside warnings — this year, we were over 1,100. Last year, we had 60 shoplifters, this year, we are over 100."

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Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian called for an emergency city council meeting on Thursday to discuss ordinances that will close the beach and ban backpacks (with some exceptions) on the boardwalk for all ages starting at 8 p.m., close public bathrooms at 10 p.m., and move up the underage curfew from 1 a.m. to 11 p.m. — all measures aimed at limiting the ability of teens to congregate late at night.

Nightly beach and bathroom closures will take effect immediately, as Gillian has the authority to do that. The other rules will need city council approval to move forward.

Thursday's emergency meeting allowed for the first reading and discussion of the resolutions, and to make way for the eventual passing of these ordinances at the council's next meeting on June 15, at which point they will go into effect if five of seven council members approve. (Jersey law requires two readings of proposed legislation before being voted on for approval.) On Thursday, council members unanimously voted to introduce these resolutions; on June 5, an additional ordinance for banning e-bikes along the boardwalk will be introduced by Gillian.

If the political process goes as planned, all new rules will be officially in effect starting June 16 prior to Father's Day weekend.

The council meeting was attended by a couple dozen community members, the seven council members, mayor, city clerk, business administrator, and city solicitor.

The public comment period began in group prayer, asking help for teens to curb their behavior. As some community members offered additional prayers during their public comment, some residents shared their concerns about trash, drinking, and social media use that alerted teens to gatherings in town. Some called for harsher punishments for teens caught misbehaving.

"If there are no consequences, they’ll just move to another part of the shore," said Ocean City resident Lisa Danowitz who gave public comment at the meeting. "Kids want attention, and they’ll do bad things, as well as good, to get it."

"The city has done a lot to try and accommodate the kids," said Susan Crackovaner, another OC resident. "We provided skateparks, basketball courts, so many things on the boardwalk that they could be doing."

Romy, who runs a boardwalk shop Blue Sky, is skeptical about the new rules. "What's going to happen when they close the beaches at 8 p.m.?" he asked. "They’re going to leave the beaches and come to the boardwalk right here. It could be a lot worse for us in that case."

Romy said he used to keep his store open past midnight on Memorial Day weekend since the crowds were good for business. Now, he closes up shop around 10:30 p.m., as do other shops near him.

Harmon Ahluwalia of the Silver Secrets boardwalk jewelry store also closes around that time. As a father of two young girls and a local business owner, Ahluwalia said Ocean City is a wonderful place for families and he wants it to stay that way. However, he also has concerns about reducing foot traffic at night due to the ordinances that could affect business — he has even thought of moving his business elsewhere.

"I’m sure there are a lot of kids who just come here for a good time, to have a good experience," said Ahluwalia, "but recent events have definitely been leaving a sour taste as a business owner."

"I know there are new rules coming up and I hope it's a win-win situation for everyone because we still want people on the boardwalk. You don't want these young kids not to be there, then nobody's gonna make money as a business owner."

Some residents fear the new regulations will push teens into the more residential areas of the town, while others said the restrictions — which apply to all ages — will make the boardwalk less accessible and enjoyable for everyone.

"I know people have concerns and don't want their summer to be ruined, but I will always be cautious when I see a kid passed out on the sidewalk," said Gillian. "This is serious and it's not just in Ocean City."