Trouble is rising again on the Sheepshead Piers, with a spike in party boat numbers spurring the return of gridlock, trash heaps, and drunken rows every weekend, say neighbors.
The boats and their clientele have been a long-time nuisance for many who live south of the Belt Parkway, and neighbors have griped that patrons treat the area like a dump, urinate on lawns, leave behind broken bottles, and incite violent brawls.
“The windows literally rattle in my old house,” said one resident at a civic meeting last week. “Every weekend is a weekend from hell.”
In 2015, Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz introduced a controversial bill to ban party boats from the pier. The bill received pushback from advocates who claimed the complaints were fueled by underlying racial tensions, pitting mostly white Bay residents against the largely Caribbean party boat clientele.
Fred Ardolino, owner of the Atlantis boat, said his only prejudice is against disrespectful patrons. “Many people coming off the boats are zonked and intoxicated,” he said, citing regular fights and other offenses. “I don’t care what color they are.”
Though the issues seemed to be plateauing last May when Assembly Member Steven Cymbrowitz said he hadn’t received a single complaint the previous summer, that positive trend seems to be over. It’s only mid-June and already neighbors say the noise, garbage, and fights are worse that ever on Emmons Avenue.
“It really is an eyesore for the neighborhood and it’s an embarrassment for the few locals that at one time enjoyed walking the Avenue,” said one resident who wished to remain anonymous. And it’s not just hard on the eyes, neighbors also complained about shouting, music, and tailgating noise lasting well past 3am.
Who’s responsible for enforcing the rules?
One of the hottest issues concerning businesses owners was crowd control, a problem exacerbated by the presence of newer, bigger boats this year. Between cruises coming and going, more than 3,000 people crowd the docks, streets, and parking spaces at a time — and many of them are boozed up.
There are currently 20 vessels docked at the pier, according to Parks Department officials. But the number of passengers allowed on each boat varies from 200 to 600, and that capacity isn’t determined by the Parks Department, but by regulations conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard.
“Boat owners need to be diligent in reminding passengers to leave the area immediately at the end of the night,” said Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz at a meeting on Friday with boat owners. But for many who work at the docks, the bigger problem is the lack of enforcement by police officers and parks officials.
And even though the precinct stations officers on the docks, residents say it’s not enough.
Parks officials said they work closely with the NYPD to monitor the docks, and there is a curfew built into every boat owner’s lease that prohibits departures after 10pm on weekdays and 12am on Fridays and Saturdays.
But that doesn’t stop boats from leaving well after midnight every weekend, said neighbors at a recent civic association meeting, citing a lack of enforcement.
On Friday, Cymbrowitz held a private meeting with the pier’s boat owners, 61st Precinct police and the Parks Department to discuss how quality-of-life issues for residents and business owners can be alleviated this summer.
Neighbors offered suggestions to quell the persistent quality of life issues that seep from the pier into the Bay’s residential neighborhoods. For example, moving the pick-up points to the Canarsie Pier, a non-residential area in Gateway National Park. In this proposal, the boats would remain docked in Sheepshead Bay, allowing them to keep their leases with the Parks Department.
But some problems are murkier, and inherent for a traffic boom in an area that wasn’t built for stadium-sized crowds — like lack of parking spaces around Emmons Avenue.
“The area used to be a fishing port, it’s too small to handle this many people every weekend,” said Peter Katsichtis at Yiasou on Emmons Avenue, whose business is hurt by the weekly traffic spike and parking dearth. “From Friday to Sunday there is no parking, they’re my worst days.”
“The lines of communication are open and everybody is working together to address any concerns raised by both the community and boat owners,” said Cymbrowitz.
Theresa Scavo from Community Board 15 echoed this optimism for the coming season. “Parks, police, and everyone had a good take on the meeting,” said Scavo. “Working harder to make sure to accomplish what the community wants. With more police involvement, I think it will work out.”