Volume 76, Number 6 | June 28 - July 4 2006

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Caption: Daniel Boyle, State Liquor Authority chairperson, came to Soho’s Puffin Room Monday for his first large community meeting since being appointed to his position in January. He said the authority is getting stricter about approving new liquor licenses.

S.L.A.’s Daniel walks into Soho lions’ den

By Albert Amateau

The State Liquor Authority chairperson came to a public forum Downtown on Monday and promised a new era in which the agency would be tougher on applications in neighborhoods where bars and clubs are shattering the late night peace.

Daniel Boyle, a former Upstate police chief, picked Soho for his first large community meeting since Governor Pataki appointed him chairperson of the S.L.A. in January, although he had met with in smaller groups across the state. It was the first time in recent memory that an S.L.A. chairperson met with community members in the city to talk about problem bars.

Boyle introduced the newest S.L.A. member, Noreen Healey, a Brooklyn Heights resident and the first member from the city in more than a decade. She recently served as principal State Supreme Court attorney in Brooklyn and has 13 years experience as an assistant district attorney in Queens, Brooklyn and Nassau County. She thought her city residency and prosecutorial experience were the two reasons she was appointed.

For the past few years, neighborhood groups and elected officials have demanded that Gov. Pataki appoint a New York City resident to the three-member S.L.A., hoping for an agency with a better understanding of a city that has 29,000 of New York State’s 70,000 licensed premises. Pataki named Healey two weeks ago and the state Senate confirmed her on June 22.

In neighborhoods including the East Village, the Lower East Side and Chelsea, quality of life forums during the past several years have denounced the S.L.A. for making almost automatic exceptions to the 500-ft. rule. The rule prohibits granting a license within 500 feet of three other licensed premises unless it can been shown at a hearing that another establishment is in: “the public interest.” The S.L.A. had been defining public interest so broadly that denials were rare.

Boyle told the June 26 “Quality of Life Summit” forum attended by about 70 invited community representatives and election officials that the agency has already embarked on its new policy.

“Since I’ve been chairman we’ve had ten 500-ft. rule hearings and we denied seven. Three were granted, one with no opposition,” Boyle said. “We’re not going to please everyone – people have the right to hold licenses.”

Responding to a question by Zella Jones, president of the Noho Neighborhood Association who organized the forum at the Puffin Gallery, Boyle said the S.L.A. would define “public interest” in 500-ft. rule hearings after listening to community representatives, law enforcement officers and the license applicants. “We’ll try to be fair and consistent,” he said.

The agency is short-staffed, with a total of 150 employees of which 28 are assigned to New York City and Westchester, said Richard Mann, S.L.A. enforcement chief who accompanied Boyle and Healey. There are only about 10 S.L.A. enforcement agents working in the five boroughs. Nevertheless, Mann said the agency would put personnel where it is needed.

“I can assure you that we’ll make every effort to address your concerns,” Mann said. “The chairman is making us much more responsive than we’ve been in the past. If we can show that clients of a particular bar are continually disruptive we can give the evidence to our attorneys to take action.”

But proving that clients of a particular bar are the ones causing problems might be difficult in Manhattan where revelers walk from bar to bar, Mann conceded.

Councilmember Alan Gerson, State Sens. Martin Connor and Tom Duane and Assemblymember Deborah Glick spoke at the event.

Earlier in June, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver sponsored a package of bills intended to drastically curtail the “public interest” exception, to control rowdy bars and to allow the S.L.A. to enforce conditions of operations that community board negotiate with bar owners. The bills passed the Democratic-controlled Assembly but failed to pass the Republican-controlled state Senate.

Boyle said there is a new Rapid Response Unit in the S.L.A. that will respond to problem bars. “We can’t fix the past. We can fix the future. We’re going to put as many investigators in the field as we need,” Boyle said to general applause.

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