Volume 75, Number 33 | January 4 - 10, 2006

Judge overturns liquor authority on Soho restaurant

Soho Alliance members, from left, Sean Sweeney, Phillip Galgiani and Catherine Ross outside Lola, a new restaurant planned at Watts and Thompson Sts.
Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

By Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke

In response to a lawsuit filed by the Soho Alliance, a New York Supreme Court judge ruled against the State Liquor Authority’s decision to issue a liquor license to Lola, a restaurant and jazz lounge planned at Watts and Thompson Sts.

“This is not only a victory for us, it is a victory for other neighborhood groups who have been fighting the S.L.A.’s willingness to ignore laws,” said Sean Sweeney, the Soho Alliance’s director.

In her Nov. 17 decision, Judge Marilyn Shafer called the S.L.A. “arbitrary and capricious” and found that granting Lola a liquor license would violate the 500-foot rule, which says that the S.L.A. cannot issue liquor licenses if there are already three or more licensed establishments within a 500-foot radius of the applicant’s premises. An exception can be made if the establishment serves “the public interest,” a vague term that earlier court decisions have ruled is not met by employment opportunities, tax revenue or fancy cuisine.

“This decision should put an end to the current circular reasoning,” said Sweeney. “The S.L.A. will no longer be able to say that it serves the public interest by serving the public interest.”

According to a provision in the law, the S.L.A. is required to consult with the local community board when there is a new application that requires a 500-foot-rule hearing. The judge found that this process was not followed.

“Not only did the authority fail to acknowledge that Community Board 2 unanimously voted against the granting of the liquor license, it did not state its reasons for granting said license,” wrote Judge Shaffer in the ruling.

Although this was a victory for the Soho Alliance, the cost of litigation is prohibitively expensive for the community organization. Action is being taken by the alliance to have their legal expenses paid for by S.L.A. Sweeney said the alliance has run up legal bills of $150,000 fighting liquor licenses in the past 10 years.

The alliance is also taking action to hold an S.L.A. hearing on Lola’s application for a beer and wine license, which is not subject to the 500-foot rule, said Sweeney. He said such a hearing for beer and wine has only been done twice, at the behest of the Soho Alliance.

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