Monday, September 29, 2008

Watch the SLA

Change may be swift there. Governor Paterson recently vetoed a bill that would have excluded some new bars from opening. Currently, bars cannot open within 200 feet of a school or church, measured from door to door. Marty Connor, who just lost re-election for State Senate and who regularly helped residents prevent new bars from opening, sponsored a bill that would have redefined the measurement as property line to property line, effectively eliminating many potential liquor licenses. Paterson didn't like it.

Tourism/nightlife and Wall Street are the big revenue generators in New York, and the former is going to sustain the state through the troubles of the latter. Only problem is, once bars have transformed your neighborhood into a vapid tourist trap, you can't get rid of them even when the state doesn't need them anymore. Tourist traps never seem to die. Maybe because they're already dead, sucking the blood out of their victim city.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Coming up at the Community Board

Extra Place is back on the agenda at the Housing and Land Use Committee, Tuesday, October 7, 6:30pm, 333 Bowery (btwn E 2nd & 3rd Sts).

As always, lots of bars and restaurants are requesting Community Board support for their liquor license application to the State Liquor Authority. Take a look at the list below to see if there's one near you.

Don't forget that the Community Board is just the first step in the process. It's the State Liquor Authority that decides whether to grant a license. Even if the CB rejects the bar, you still have to go up to the SLA hearing (preferably with letters from local electeds-- councilmember, State Senator and State Assemblymember) if you want to ensure denial. The SLA was responsive to community demands last year, but the economy has changed, and the SLA will change with it.

Here's the list of liquor license applicants on the agenda of the CB3 SLA committee
Monday, October 20, 6:30pm, 200 East 5th Street (corner of the Bowery)
rw/tw=beer&wine license;
op=hard liquor license

1. FY'2010 Capital & Expense Priorities
Renewal with Complaint History
2. The Box, 189 Chrystie St (op)
3. Sidewalk Bar & Restaurant, 94 Ave A (sidewalk café)
4. Dallas BBQ, 132 2nd Ave (sidewalk café)
5. Supper, 156 E 2nd St (sidewalk café)
Sidewalk Café Renewal/ULURP
6. Sugar Café, 200 Allen St (sidewalk café)
7. Zerza, 304 E 6th St (sidewalk café)
Applications within Resolution Areas
8. Tuck Shop, 68 E 1st St (rw)
9. Caffe Pepe Rosso, 127 Ave C (up/op)
10. 146 Orchard Rest, 146 Orchard St (add/op)
11. 6AB Restaurant, 507 E 6th St (bw)
12. Café Partners, 72 E 1st St (tw)
13. Jing Star (currently Sunrise 27), 27-29 Division St (trans/rw)
14. Vicky's Gourmet (currently Yummy House), 76 3rd Ave (trans/op)
15. Xunta, 174 1st Ave (up/op)
16. Bourgeois Pig, 122 E 7th St (alt)
17. Sushi Park, 77 E 7th St (up/op)
18. Mornir Stojnovic (currently Kush Lounge), 191 Chrystie St (trans/op)
19. Corp to be Formed (currently Mo Pitkins), 34 Ave A (trans/op)
20. SJD Entertainment (currently Summers Bar), 49 Clinton St (trans/op)
21. A&S Organic (currently Russo's), 40 Ave B (trans/rw)
New Liquor License Applications
22. Betty Café, 256 E 3rd St (tw)
23. Fifty Fathoms, 86 Allen St (op)
24. 384 Grand St (op)
25. Tanaghrisson, 90 E 10th St (op)
26. 1 Essex LLC, 1 Essex St (op)
27. Compas Group, 86 Orchard St (op)
28. Fritz, 417 E 9th St (rw)
29. Stanton Restaurant, 82 Stanton St (op)
30. Spice Thai Hot & Cool, 77 E 10th St (op)
31. 144 Division LLC, 144 Division St (op)
32. Persimmon LLC, 277 E 10th St (rw)
33. Rivington Sushi, 151 Rivington St (rw)
34. Porchetta, 110 E 7th St (rw)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Event of the Year? Will all the bloggers be there? Long-time Lower East Siders will...





September 27, 2008

6:30 - 9:30 p.m.


Bowery Poetry Club

308 Bowery

one block north of Houston st.

music, poetry and film

art auction


proceeds benefit the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors (BAN)

a grassroots organization working to preserve

the historic character of The Bowery

admission $10 per person

checks payable to:

Bowery Alliance of Neighbors

184 Bowery #4

NYC, NY 10012

More on Extra Place

CB3 asked that HPD come back to CB3 with a revised proposal for Extra Place possibly as early as next month. The community board committee asked for alternatives that would include other community organizations and entities besides Avalon.

For more on Extra Place including pictures: VNY

Privatizing another street: Extra Place

At the Housing committee of CB3, we learned that the Avalon development is arranging with the city to buy a little alley, once a street, called, wonderfully, Extra Place. The city demapped it years ago, leaving it technically an empty lot, which dumped it from the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation (DoT) into the lap of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). Now HPD wants to palm it off to Avalon -- the three hulking glass developments on the CB3 side of Bowery & Houston that have become architects' and urban planners' most preferred examples of bad city design. Avalon is eager to beautify the alley in preparation for a string of sidewalk cafes along its length which, Avalon says, will benefit the entire public! Which is why they want to buy it ... to benefit the public.

If Avalon owns the street, the sidewalk cafes fall out of much city regulatory oversight, for which private benefit Avalon is willing to take on the burden of cleaning and maintaining the space. HPD doesn't want responsibility for this alley -- they handle housing, but Extra Place is really a street, regardless what the map says. So -- again, always for the public good -- the city wants to sell it to the trusted developer of New York's worst. Everyone is so interested in the public good, don't you feel pampered?

Insert cartoon of a heavy-lidded, half-asleep, slovenly, unwashed and unshaven municipal authority holding the public in it's pudgy hand with the other palm outstretched for the pay-off saying, "You want it? How much you give me for it?" to a bright-eyed, prim-suited gal with a gleam in her Gucci glasses and a shoulder pocketbook popping with wads of cash.

CB committee members were not so foolish as to buy this smartly wrapped bill of goods. Rallied into the field by Herman Hewitt, they went on indignant attack. Chair Fout and Militano and Prisant and Ratcliffe and Wieder -- each took an opportunity to whack Avalon for the sake of the public and against privatization. Inspiring. A Frank Capra moment. Over the orchestra the crash of cymbals: The representatives of the public defend the public realm!

Made up in part for the truly depressing presentation from the Department of Buildings earlier in the meeting. DoB sent some low-level buffer to tell us that either DoB doesn't have the information we seek about 180 Orchard or DoB isn't responsible for having such information or he didn't bring the information, or you could get it yourself on the web -- in short, don't bother DoB because DoB is exactly what everyone says it is: useless. Did we need DoB to come tell us this? I guess it's good to watch the department itself provide living proof of exactly how useless it is, just in case there was any doubt.

180 Orchard has been in construction for four years with only three stories built and nobody can say what is being built there, whether it has financing for completion, what its status is or what the future might hold. Meanwhile, it's hell for the local businesses and residents. Classic case of Developer's Blight.

Unfortunately, the committee tried to help DoB present its case. CB3 doesn't seem to have picked up the MO of the savvy political committee. When a failed agency under a cloud of scandal is called by a committee to present itself to the public, the committee members are supposed to sit forward in their seats, staring out at the public tight-lipped and grim-faced, while the publicly despised agency sweats it out in desperation. If the committee starts defending the agency or answering questions for the agency or even tries to show off that the committee knows more than the public about the agency, then the committee looks as if it's taking the side of a scandal-ridden crony against the public. That may impress the public with the committee's inside knowledge, but it sure as hell doesn't make the committee look good. It aggravates community distrust.

It's hard to keep silent. There's the temptation to display knowledge and give an impression of control. But that's unnecessary and counterproductive. It doesn't matter that there are reasons DoB doesn't have the information the public needs and wants: this is not a Panglossian best-of-all-possible DoB's. Let DoB sweat. After all, their commissioner just resigned under a scandal that hasn't been resolved and that needs resolution. Their regulations and operations need revision. There's nothing to be gained by being extra nice to them or helping them out of a jam. Put blame where blame is due. It's their moment in the hot spotlight; they're up for change. They don't need to be attacked. Just let 'em sweat! And then thank them very kindly for their presentation.

Watch how the U.S. congress does it. They are the jaded, cynical pros of Machiavellian silence. No one does it better.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Good news at the community board

Those of us worried about the new members of the SLA committee of Community Board 3 had our fears allayed. The committee took strong stands against new liquor licenses, against licenses on side streets and against applicants who failed to show good faith with local residents.

Most encouraging, David McWater, former CB chair, laid out in his motions, votes and discussions an array of principles regarding liquor applicants: licenses should not be encouraged on side streets, applicants should keep licenses that already exist rather than add new licenses to the pool, applicants should be discouraged in areas already saturated with licenses. In all these principles McWater reflects widespread sentiment among long-term residents of the district.

McWater's view is nuanced with an ethical concern: if the CB identifies moratorium areas, then areas not so designated send the signal to nightlife speculators that those areas are open to additional liquor licenses. If the board doesn't want any bars in a location -- not even a well-run bar -- it should not give the impression to the industry that the area is open to licenses. It's not fair to the applicants to encourage them to invest in a location only to be surprised by resistance at the committee level. Applicants should not be made to pay for the lack of a clear signal from the board. He recommends extending the moratorium areas wherever the neighborhood is saturated with bars.

(It should be pointed out that the moratoria are symbolic only. The SLA requires that every applicant be given a fair hearing on its own merits. Blanket denials are an abridgment of due process. The CB moratoria merely indicate community orientation or intent. The committee must hear the individual applicants even in moratorium areas.)

There is merit in McWater's ethics and no harm in extending the moratoria. But the current attitude of the committee seems to me to be exactly that clear indication to the nightlife industry that new liquor licenses are no longer welcome here, regardless how responsible the applicant. And, honestly, no bar owner should be surprised by community resistance: bars are nimby issues; there is scarcely a residential community in the five boroughs that welcomes a bar. Applicants may feign ignorance, but they know exactly which neighborhoods are dense with bars. Those are the neighborhoods they seek out -- nightlife destinations with their bottomless well of non-local patrons.

The example of 124 1st Avenue -- a liquor license withdrawn in favor of a Kim's Video -- shows that there are welcome alternatives to nightlife. If McWater would add to his principles that even well-run bars should be discouraged in saturated areas, he'd have a perfect score. On the committee, John Fout, Noah Yago and Alexandra Militano, the chair of the committee, vocally stood behind that principle.

The committee had tough decisions before it: there were several applicants with excellent records of following quiet, respectful, responsible business models, who happened to apply in areas full of noisy, disrespectful and irresponsible bars. The committee would gladly have installed these quiet bars in place of the existing noisy ones, but that's not an option. The noisy ones are here to stay, and the unpleasantness of their presence is keeping the quiet ones out: the community has had enough, and the committee took the difficult position of siding with the community. Those decent businesses are being sacrificed to the licensing excesses of the past. The committee too is paying for the past.

Well, nothing to shed tears over. The applicants, if the SLA respects the CB's recommendations, will have to find their opportunities to rake in piles of cash elsewhere. Meanwhile, the culture of the neighborhood has been preserved a little bit, for a little bit longer.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

New Community Board Committees

Community Board 3 has updated its website with its newly structured committees, new committee members and new committee chairs.

If we're lucky, we'll see a community board that advances its agenda plainly and without exaggeration or deception, that has the good faith to acknowledge its errors gracefully, that prioritizes serving the community ahead of serving the community board; a community board that is an open and welcoming friend to the community, not defensive or antagonistic.

I'd like to see the board recognize that this neighborhood has enough bars -- actually, too many. More bars will benefit only the nightlife and real estate industries, neither of which needs anyone's help, and benefit them to the detriment of all daytime commerce and residential life. Real estate values are high enough; the neighborhood is already a party destination; the once great, avant-garde, radical Lower East Side has lost enough to transient wealth. Must we lose all?

And then there's development. Development on the waterfront. Development in Chinatown. Development on the Bowery. We've already accepted a 44% market-rate upzoning (let's hope we at least get the 10% affordable housing projected).

The wealthy and powerful real estate and nightlife industries and their lawyers will be fighting hard for more bars and more development. Who will defend ordinary powerless residents?

How about a community board that has the courage to fight against the powerful, organized industries, a community board that stands up for those who don't have money behind them, a community board that says, simply, no to new bars, no to upscale development?

Saturday, September 06, 2008


Currently, rent stabilized or controlled tenants may be evicted from a building if the landlord wishes to demolish or gut renovate it. The landlord must provide compensation to the tenant. DHCR, the state agency that oversees housing, will accept comments until September 30 on the proposed definition of "demolition" and the formula for compensation to tenants evicted for such a demolition. The proposals are summarized at the end of this post along with the DHCR address.

My view:
owners have the right to develop their property, tenants have the right to protection. If owners were required to relocate regulated tenants locally in comparable space at comparable rent, and to offer them the right to return after redevelopment is completed (again, to comparable space at comparable rent) landlords would be free to redevelop their property, tenants would remain protected, and no landlord would be able to use demolition solely to remove rent regulated tenants.

In addition, the owner should provide upfront an insurance fund for maintaining its commitment to the tenant until the redevelopment is completed. Currently, a landlord must prove his financial ability to complete the redevelopment before DHCR will permit a demolition. That financial proof should include the financial ability to fulfill his commitment to the regulated tenants. The state itself should assume responsibility for tenants in case the redevelopment is not completed. That would provide incentive to the state to oversee redevelopment properly.

Required to keep their regulated tenants, landlords would demolish only for significantly profitable expansions. The question of compensation would not arise and the definition of "demolition" would be irrelevant, since it would be more cost-effective to renovate or expand without evicting.

Other views:
some object to DHCR's definition of demolition as too lenient, tenant compensation too low and not offered for long enough. Demolition should be to the ground, they say, and compensation should be based on local market-rate rents and offered for ten years, not the proposed six years. They believe that requiring a landlord to demolish all the walls will significantly deter demolitions. Higher compensation for a longer period would be more fair in current market conditions and also deter demolitions.

Neither one of these deterrents seems to me as effective or as fair as a relocation requirement. If the goal is to prevent landlords from using demolition merely to eliminate rent regulated tenants, then the fitting remedy should be to require them to keep the rent regulated tenants, and let that be the deterrent. Cynically pro-landlord as DHCR's definition of "demolition" is, revising it doesn't solve the problem. Relocation and return do.

Summary of DHCR's Proposals
DHCR proposes that a demolition be at least "the complete gutting of all interior space in the building from the ground floor and above and including the removal of the building’s roofs and of all internal building systems. However, a demolition under this subparagraph shall not require the removal of the outer walls and structural supports of a building."

DHCR proposes that tenants evicted for such a demolition receive a stipend of the difference between their rent and the average stabilized rent of the zip code plus 20% (to bring it closer to market-rates).

DHCR, Office of Rent Administration
Attention: Michael Berrios, Special Assistant to the Deputy Commissoner
Gertz Plaza
92-31 Union Hall Street
Jamaica, New York 11433

Commissioner Gregg Fewer
Gertz Plaza
92-31 Union Hall Street
Jamaica, New York 11433

Deputy Commissioner Liz Torres
Gertz Plaza
92-31 Union Hall Street
Jamaica, New York 11433