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BY SAM SPOKONY | In a bizarre vote, Community Board 3 decided on Tuesday night to deny a proposal for a full liquor license for a planned Latin restaurant at 106 Rivington St.
Owners of the planned restaurant, which is as yet unnamed, had to settle for a stripped-down resolution that the board voted through shortly after, which recommended a beer and wine license and would only allow the restaurant to stay open until midnight throughout the week. The original resolution, which narrowly passed C.B. 3’s S.L.A. Committee despite heated opposition on Oct. 16, recommended to allow the establishment to stay open until 2 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
The board’s recommendation will now be sent to the State Liquor Authority, which will have the final say on the matter.
Supporters of the restaurant believe the terms of the recommendation will not allow them to create a successful business. But opponents — who have formed a new-nightlife group called the L.E.S. Dwellers — celebrated a partial victory, claiming that a another establishment with a liquor license and late hours would have only bad quality-of-life effects on a block that already contains several rowdy bars.
Both groups had brought speakers to testify at the start of the meeting, and the tenseness of their exchanges continued until the final vote ended the debate — for now.
“We think it’s very positive,” said Diem Boyd, a Rivington St. resident who helped organize the L.E.S. Dwellers, after the meeting. “And we’re not saying that we don’t support their restaurant. We want and welcome a Latin restaurant. What we don’t want is a full liquor license in a place that’s two stories high, with an occupancy of 200 people, on what’s considered one of the most saturated blocks on the Northeast Coast.”
Enrique Cruz, a consultant for the restaurant’s two owners (one of whom is a lifetime Lower East Side resident) claimed in an interview the following day that opponents of the liquor license don’t really understand the effects of what they are trying to impose.
“How do they expect a restaurant like this to survive, to make a profit, with just a beer and wine license?” asked Cruz.
He also claimed that serving liquor such as rum at the restaurant would be vital, not only economically, but culturally, in terms of creating the authentic Latin feel that the owners believe would be of great public benefit, especially to the large Latin population of the L.E.S.
“At French restaurants, it’s wine; at Japanese restaurants, it’s sake; and at Latin restaurants, it’s rum,” Cruz asserted. “No one there recognized that this is actually an issue of cultural importance.”
The vote rejecting the original resolution was 16 in favor, 15 opposed and two abstentions. The abstentions technically count as opposing votes, leaving the total count at 16 in favor and 17 opposed.
But the surprise controversy arose seconds after the votes were tallied, when board member Jimmy Cheng, who abstained, publicly announced that he actually didn’t know his abstention would count as a “no” vote. If he had known this, he might have voted in favor — and if he had voted in favor, the resolution would have passed.
Supporters of the proposed liquor license subsequently got riled up and began shouting that the board should revote. And board member Anne Johnson, who had voted in favor of the resolution, went so far as to say that she didn’t think the vote was fair, given that Cheng is a relatively new member and the rule may never have been explained to him.
But in response to a question by another board member, C.B. 3 Chairperson Gigi Li stated that the rules regarding abstentions are in fact described in the board’s bylaws and training procedures. After several minutes of shouting and confusion, the board judged that the vote was fair.
Cruz thought otherwise.
“I’m a little upset about how that went down,” he said. “I wished it would’ve been more organized, and that this rule would’ve been explained a little better to the people who were voting. Because in the end, that unintentional vote is what made the difference.”
Li declined to comment after the meeting.
Boyd acknowledged that there were some confusing moments during the vote, but said she and her group will now be entirely focused on taking their case to the State Liquor Authority before it makes a final decision on the matter.
“We’ll be there in full force,” she said.