Volume 75, Number 25 | November 09 -15, 2005

Villager photos by Clayton Patterson

Phil LaLumia protested the existence of bars on E. 10th St. near the Boys’ Club and St. Nicholas Church.

Residents rail against bars at an L.E.S. town hall

By Albert Amateau

A town hall meeting organized by a coalition of Lower East Side and East Village block associations attracted more than 300 residents last week to protest the proliferation of bars and lounges in the neighborhood.

Fed up with noise, litter and jam-packed pedestrian and auto traffic, neighbors told an invited panel that included a State Liquor Authority enforcement agent and two police precinct commanding officers that their complaints to authorities have not improved what they said was an intolerable situation.

Leaders of the group, including Susan Howard, of the Norfolk St. Block Association; Jane MacNichol, of E. 11th St.; and Rebecca Moore, of the Ludlow-Orchard Community Organization, charged that the neighborhood’s traditionally diverse economy is being threatened because bar owners are the only merchants who can afford the escalating commercial rents.

Panelist Doris Diether of Community Board 2 shared her views while Captain Frank Dwyer, left, and Assemblymember Deborah Glick listened.

Deputy Inspector Dennis DeQuatro, Ninth Precinct commander, estimated that about 400 bar and nightlife establishments do business in his East Village precinct. Captain Frank Dwyer, commander of the Seventh Precinct, estimated that about 95 bars and lounges operate in the area within his Lower East Side precinct bounded by E. Houston, Allen and Pike Sts. and the East River, with bars frequently opening and closing.

“We, the residents of the Lower East Side and the East Village are trying to take action against the reckless proliferation of bars. Their noise and disruption are damaging our lives,” Joanee Freedom, of the E. Sixth St. Block Association, told the Nov. 1 meeting at the Angel Orensanz Foundation on Norfolk St.

“Where are the community boards?” asked Claudia Flanagan, a candidate for City Council in District 2, which includes the East Village, declaring that local boards were not using their power to curb the proliferation of bars.

Although a member of the coalition had attended the Community Board 3 meeting the week before and issued a general invitation to the Nov. 1 forum, the community board did not send an official representative, Susan Stetzer, the district manager said in a phone interview later.

“This is an issue that we work on all the time,” Stetzer said, noting that the board has designated bar-saturated areas for which it sends automatic recommendations against new liquor licenses to the S.L.A. Indeed, the agency denied a license renewal to one applicant for a bar on First Ave. after receiving the board’s automatic opposition and a report from the Ninth Precinct, Stetzer said.

Nevertheless, residents complained that the S.L.A. grants liquor licenses in such numbers that threaten the neighborhood quality of life. But Marvin Levine, the S.L.A. representative on the panel, said the agency often denies liquor licenses, which applicants appeal and win in court decisions.

State Assemblymember Deborah Glick, a panel member, said she was working on a bill that would force corporate applicants for liquor licenses to reveal the names of all investors. She earned enthusiastic applause after saying she is calling on the S.L.A., most of whose commissioners are from Upstate, to come to the neighborhood and make a count of the licensed premises.

Glick, who represents the West Village, was the subject of a New York Post Page Six item last Sunday that said she would better represent a suburban community because of her stand on liquor licenses.

On Monday, she responded to the Post’s barb in a statement saying, “There are some clubs and bars that create serious disruptions in our neighborhoods and could care less about their impact on the quality of life for local residents. I simply believe that the people of all ages in my district who are seeking a respite from the noise of problem bars should not have to move to the suburbs to get a good night’s sleep.”

One bar owner who spoke at the forum said most noise complaints were the result of the no-smoking law which forces smokers to gather on the sidewalks in front of the bars. “I’d love to get them back inside,” he said, and asked Glick if she would support a repeal of the indoor smoking ban. The answer was “no,” because it was a health issue, Glick replied.

Philip LaLumia, 78, a lifelong E. 10th St. resident, also faulted the S.L.A. for granting liquor licenses on a block where the Boys’ Club of New York is located with St. Nicholas Church across the street. Bobby Schreiver, a Lower East Side activist, called on the coalition for help in curbing Mission Bar and Lounge on Bowery at Rivington St., where an argument among patrons led to a shooting death on the street several weeks ago. “We want to close the place,” Schreiver said.

Deborah Gonzalez, leader of a Stanton St. tenants association, said three bars that opened near her building ought to be closed down because “they don’t care about the neighborhood. We have seniors who can’t get to sleep before 3 or 4 in the morning.”

Margarita Lopez, outgoing councilmember who was also a panel member, elicited some boos when she said that the number of complaints about a specific bar should not be the sole criteria for calling it a problem bar because some complaints have made false accusations.

Nevertheless, DeQuatro confirmed that he and another officer went to one apartment above a bar that generated 95 noise complaints one night but they could not hear anything above ambient sound.

Lopez also noted that she had introduced Council legislation to allow off-duty police to work for nightlife establishments to control crowds. But police commissioners over several mayoral administrations have rejected the program, known as paid detail.

However, bar owners at the forum, including David Rabin, president of the New York Nightlife Association, said they wanted to be able to employ off-duty cops.

The coalition intends to formally organize in the near future and hold another forum, MacNichol said. The groups include the 4th St. A/B Block Assoc.; 11th St. ABC Block Assoc.; 6th St. A/B Block Assoc.; 6th St. B/C Block Assoc.; Coalition to Save the East Village; Lower East Side Residents Coalition; Residents for Responsible Development; Ludlow-Orchard Community Organization; 211 Madison St. Tenants Assoc.; Norfolk St. St. Block Assoc.; and St. Marks Pl. A-1 Block Assoc.

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