Volume 75, Number 42 | March 8 -14 2006

Deputy mayor: Bloomberg will push for a city S.L.A. commish

By Albert Amateau

More than 200 residents of Noho, Soho and the Lower East Side — neighborhoods overwhelmed by bars and lounges — cheered at a town hall meeting last week when Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott said the Bloomberg administration would urge Governor Pataki to appoint a New York City member to the State Liquor Authority.

The March 2 forum, organized by Zella Jones, president of the Noho Neighborhood Association, with Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance, and Claudia Flanagan, of the Lower East Side Alliance, was not confined to the proliferation of liquor licenses.

Traffic and controversial land-use issues, including New York University’s building program, were also on the agenda, but nightlife liquor licensing was foremost. And the S.L.A., which sent two staff members who did not speak at the meeting, was the target of nearly two hours of criticism.

The three-member S.L.A. currently has only two commissioners: the recently appointed chairman, Daniel Boyle, a former police chief from the Schenectady area; and Lawrence J. Gedda, of Long Island. Joseph C. Zariello, a liquor retailer from Colonie, near Albany, retired on Feb. 15 from the agency, which for years has had no commissioner from New York City.

State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer has been investigating allegations of impropriety involving the S.L.A. and wholesale liquor licenses for the past few months.

“We all agree that the S.L.A. is a total, complete and remarkable failure,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to long applause at March 2 forum.

Jessica Loeser, aide to Assembly Speaker Shelley Silver, was also cheered when she declared that Silver would conduct a May 5 hearing in Manhattan on the S.L.A. to consider eliminating “the exception” to the 500-foot rule.

The rule provides that any application for a license within 500 feet of three other licensed locations is subject to a special hearing at which objections may be raised. But the rule also provides that a license could be granted if the agency finds it “in the public interest.” Community boards and neighborhood advocates have long complained that the S.L.A. habitually finds licenses “in the public interest” if the establishments do no more than provide a few employment opportunities.

The policy has resulted in so many bars and lounges that neighborhood economics have become unbalanced and residents are hard-pressed to get a decent night’s sleep. Jones said the din in Noho of honking horns from cabs is overpowering from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. from Wednesday to Sunday

Jones said later that the response by the Bloomberg administration — and even the S.L.A. — to forum invitations was heartening. About 25 staff members and commissioners from the Departments of Transportation, Environmental Protection, City Planning and Landmarks and the Mayor’s Community Assistance Unit attended, plus police from five Downtown precincts and Deputy Chief Stephen Paragallo, of the Manhattan South Borough Command.

In addition to the promise of the mayor’s efforts to urge Pataki to appoint a city member of the S.L.A., Deputy Mayor Walcott promised that the administration would meet with neighborhood advocates and representatives of Community Board 1, 2, 3 and 4 to revisit specific pressing concerns.

“The process will unfold over the next six weeks,” said Walcott, adding that both he and Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler would be involved in the issues.

Gregory Brender, an aide to Assemblymember Deborah Glick, reported that Glick has introduced two legislative bills to increase S.L.A. accountability to the public. One bill would require owners to post notices at the door of a premises within 10 days of applying for a new or renewed license, specifying the date, type of license and how neighbors may comment to the S.L.A. on the application. And within 10 days after receiving notice of a hearing date, an applicant would be required to post a notice of the hearing with details about the use and capacity of the premises.

Glick’s other bill would require the S.L.A. to directly notify community boards about liquor license renewals, and to provide forms for boards to record their comments, which would become part of the official record and be considered by the board in its license deliberations.

In response to a presentation by Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, on the society’s call for N.Y.U. to establish satellite campuses in other parts of the city to relieve development pressure on the Village and East Village, Stringer said he too would sponsor a meeting

But Stringer said he would also raise the question of the university’s response to the Graduate Students Organizing Committee’s efforts to re-establish a teaching assistants union at N.Y.U.

Bob Cohen, of the N.Y.U. office of Government and Community Affairs, responded by saying N.Y.U. was always ready to talk to the community about any issue and noted that the university already has satellite campuses, including the medical and dental schools on the east side of Midtown, and the School of Continuing and Professional Studies in the Woolworth Building near City Hall and in two Midtown locations. Regarding the graduate students union, Cohen said the university has “very good relations with several unions, but the [GSOC] question is whether they are workers or students.”

Among the land-use issues at the forum was the community facilities zoning allowance, which permits projects much larger than existing zoning if they contain uses like schools or medical facilities.

Jones also faulted the City Planning Commission for ignoring a community-initiated land-use plan, under City Charter Article 197A, endorsed by Community Board 3. Richard Barth, C.P.C. executive director, said the commission would respond to the land-use plan in six weeks when the Bloomberg administration plans a follow-up meeting.

Neighborhoods south of 23rd St. are also choked with traffic, Jones told public officials and neighbors. She suggested that solutions like congestion pricing that would impose fees on private cars coming into Manhattan at peak hours should be explored.

State Senators Tom Duane and Martin Connor were among the panel that urged S.L.A. reform. Aides represented Councilmembers Rosie Mendez, who was confined to bed with a stomach virus, and Alan Gerson, who had a family obligation, at the forum.

Assistant Chief Paragallo told the forum that Manhattan South precincts, including the First, in Lower Manhattan; the Fifth, Seventh and Ninth on the Lower East Side; the Sixth in the Village; and the 10th covering Chelsea, will inspect and close bars with violations.

Police, with staff members and officials from other city agencies and the S.L.A., have conducted MARCH (multiple-agency response to club hazards) enforcements and issued violations against 17 establishments and were able to effect eight closings since the beginning of the year, Paragallo said. “A lot of them are able to open again but with guidelines. We will expand this operation in the Ninth Precinct to include the Sixth, Fifth and Seventh Precincts,” he said.

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