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Holmdel officials express concern about public safety at arts center, in town

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HOLMDEL – Members of the Holmdel Township Committee have expressed “grave concerns … about public safety at the PNC Bank Arts Center and across Holmdel due to the new laws signed by Gov. (Phil) Murphy that reduce the penalties for underage drinking to written warnings and restrict the ability of law enforcement to enforce” those laws.

Township Committee members passed a resolution on May 25 putting their concerns on the record. Voting “yes” on a motion to pass the resolution were Mayor Greg Buontempo, Deputy Mayor Cathy Weber, Committeeman D.J. Luccarelli and Committeeman Prakash Santhana.

Committeeman Tom Critelli was absent from the meeting.

Holmdel’s elected representatives are calling on Murphy and members of the state Legislature to amend state law 2C:33-15 “to prevent against anticipated public safety issues caused by underage drinking at the PNC Bank Arts Center and across Holmdel.”

According to rosenblumlaw.com, under the law known as 2C:33-15, “it is illegal for a person under 21 years of age to purchase, drink or possess an alcoholic beverage in a public place, motor vehicle or school. Individuals over age 18, but under age 21, will face charges as an adult, while those under 18 will be charged with a juvenile offense.

“Those under 21 are not allowed to have alcoholic beverages in one’s vehicle under any circumstances. … The State of New Jersey has not criminalized underage drinking on private property,” according to the website.

The Holmdel committee’s resolution states that the PNC Bank Arts Center, which is on the Garden State Parkway in Holmdel, is an amphitheater owned by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority with a capacity of nearly 20,000 people, which is slated to host about 20 concerts during the summer of 2021.

Municipal officers assert that “the PNC Bank Arts Center has had documented issues with underage drinking by tailgating patrons prior to concerts, which has been injurious to the health, safety and welfare of Holmdel” and that “while the New Jersey State Police provide law enforcement to the arts center, in the past, underage drinking at the arts center has placed significant burdens on Holmdel, including calls for first aid and police mutual aid assistance and an influx of admissions at Bayshore Medical Center” in Holmdel.

According to the resolution, current state laws “contain troubling provisions that reduce underage drinking penalties and undermine the ability of law enforcement to enforce New Jersey’s underage drinking laws …”

The committee members said they have “grave concerns that these laws enacted this year will prevent any meaningful enforcement of New Jersey’s underage drinking laws.”

They municipal officials said they “fear this reality may lead to potentially widespread underage drinking at the PNC Bank Arts Center and in all other public and private properties located within Holmdel, which will be injurious to the health, safety and welfare of its citizens.”

During public comment, Jay Yanello said, “I am taken aback by what the Governor has done with underage drinking. What can we do as a town” to mitigate the problem?

Buontempo said, “Law enforcement (personnel) are concerned … We have had incidents of underage drinking in Holmdel. Incidents that occur at the arts center spill into town and into Bayshore hospital. The Governor committed a grave injustice by allowing this (new law) to happen.”

Township Attorney Michael Collins said state law pre-empts municipal officials from acting on underage drinking. For example, a municipal ordinance cannot be enacted to address the committee members’ concerns.

Underage drinking is a state offense and “we are powerless,” Collins said. “The idea (in passing the resolution) is to raise public knowledge and to advocate for the Legislature to change the law.”

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