Volume 75, Number 29 | December 7 - 13, 2005

Chelsea club boom has neighbors looking for answers

By Albert Amateau

West Chelsea, where more than 20 nightclubs and lounges with a total capacity of more than 10,000 patrons are clustered between 10th and 11th Aves., is a magnet for revelers and a nightmare for residents.

In a district zoned for manufacturing, legal uses include restaurants, clubs and bars, and these rule the night. But they bring cabs, limousines and private cars that clog the streets, crowds of people overflowing the sidewalks, along with noise, litter and worse, reaching a crescendo at club closing time at 4 a.m. at least five nights a week.

Residents in the city housing authority development just to the east and in converted lofts throughout the area between 26th and 29th Sts. feel like they are pushed to the wall.

At a Community Board 4 West Chelsea nightlife forum on Dec. 5, about 100 people, including neighborhood residents, managers of nightlife establishments, police and other city agency representatives, tried to find solutions to a problem that could get worse.

Lee Compton, chairperson of C.B. 4, noted that the recently approved West Chelsea Plan is expected to encourage development of as many as 5,000 residential units in the district.

“Is it possible to handle 10,000 people in this small space?” was the discouraging question that he posed. The discouraging statistics: in 2001, the total patron capacity was just over 1,000; in 2002, local clubs had a total capacity of 2,500 patrons; and by 2004, clubs and lounges in the area could accommodate just over 9,000 people. This year, the capacity is 10,500, including applications for new clubs.

Compton and Kevin Kossi, co-chairperson of the C.B. 4 Business Licenses Committee, went armed with a camera to take photos of the peak hours and focused on the corner of 10th Ave. at 27th St. where Marquee, a club with a cabaret license and a capacity of 597 patrons, is located.

The images, projected onto a screen at the meeting, showed cabs double- and triple-parked and pedestrians overflowing the sidewalk, but mercifully did not reproduce the noise. Residents and club operators agreed that keeping 10th Ave. traffic moving was necessary.

Imposing a no-parking/no-standing rule for the east side of 10th Ave. was one suggestion to help open up 10th Ave. Using Mounted Police Troop B — currently based on Pier 63 at 23rd St. — was another idea for crowd control, one that 10th Precinct Commander Captain Stephen Hughes said he would explore.

Paid Detail — allowing Police Department officers to work in uniform and be paid by club owners to patrol outside the clubs — was a frequent suggestion. But Hughes said the practice was against department policy and would probably require New York State legislation. Nevertheless, residents and club operators urged that Paid Detail be given a trial.

Tom Bowes, leader of a group called 10th Avenue Tenants, said a major problem was that vans were bringing in loads of people, already drunk or high on drugs, who want to be part of a by-now world-famous scene.

Marvin Levine, a State Liquor Authority representative, came in for angry denunciation by residents who say the agency grants too many licenses. He explained that even though a hearing may be called in the case of an establishment seeking a license within 500 feet of three other licensed premises, there is no legal limit to the number of licenses the authority may issue. Residents protested that the agency constantly found additional licenses to be in the public interest even when they have a very negative impact.

Compton noted that Ed Kelly, chairperson of the S.L.A. for more than the past 10 years, resigned last week. “Let’s hope that it bodes well for a change in policy,” he said.

The commander of the Police Department’s Traffic Intelligence Division indicated that the division could provide the 10th Precinct with traffic enforcement personnel and tow trucks to keep traffic moving and reduce horn honking.

Another hopeful possibility could be a revised noise code that will receive a public hearing at the City Council next week.

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