Volume 73, Number 33 | December 17 - 23, 2003

L.G.B.T. Center claims it’s doing more to control noise

By Albert Amateau

Leaders of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Community Center told their W. 13th St. neighbors on Monday that the Center will make increased efforts to respond to long-standing complaints about noisy and disruptive crowds outside the Center.

The assurances came at a Dec. 15 meeting with City Councilmember Christine Quinn, members of Community Board 2, leaders of the W. 13th St. Neighborhood Association and Center leaders including Richard Burns, executive director, Jack Esterson, co-chairperson of the board of trustees, and Robert Woodworth, director of institutional services.

While the meeting was cordial, neighbors and community board members said later that they were skeptical about the promises.

“I’ve sat through 18 years of these very pleasant meetings,” said Cleo Vias, who lives across the street from the Center, “I’m an eternal optimist and maybe this time it will work, but this meeting was not much different.”

Aubrey Lees, a Community Board 2 member, agreed. “I hope something will be accomplished, but I’m not optimistic. The Center has been on notice for two years that there are issues and the block association has been incredibly patient,” she said. “For years the Center has been held to a different standard. They have to be held to the same standard as any other institution on a residential street,” Lees added.

A community board resolution in November called for Quinn’s help in setting up a new meeting to resolve the old problem of noisy crowds outside the center at 208 W. 13th St.

“Since last month we’ve asked the staff to track peak periods when crowds congregate outside,” Burns said on Dec. 15. “They are between 6 and 8 p.m. on weeknights, between 1 and 2 p.m. and 7:30 and 8 p.m. on Sundays and between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. on Saturdays,” he went on. “There have been changes in staff action around the outside of the building,” Burns added.

“We’ve upped the ante during peak periods,” said Woolworth. “We go out and intervene in what happens outside the building, but we don’t have police powers,” he said. “We’ve spoken to outside groups doing large events at the center about addressing the issue of crowds leaving the events and we’ve been putting more resources into play during peak hours,” Woolworth added.

Jim Smith, current C.B. 2 chairperson, told Center officials that staff members should be insistent when urging crowds to disperse. “You’re not going to accomplish a damned thing if you just tell people to move along and then go back inside. That’s not going to cut it,” he said. Woodworth replied that staff members will take the problem seriously and will be diligent.

Martin Tessler, head of the C.B. 2 Institutions Committee, asked that neighbors be given the name of the staff member responsible for taking telephone complaints. But Woodworth said that would present problems when assignments had to be changed. He promised, however, that complaints phoned in to the “I and R”(Information and Referral) staff member on duty would be attended to promptly.
Maria Gustafson, president of the 13th St. Neighborhood Association, said that on occasions when neighbors went to the Center in person to complain about crowds — and waited while a staff member dealt with the problem — “the response has been better — at least for a while.”

Tessler suggested that the Center set aside an “unwinding room” where people can go to chat after an event. But Woodworth said that space in the Center, which serves 6,000 people per week, was at a premium. “We encourage people to go to the garden if they want to talk after a meeting, but we can’t take a room out of service” he said.

Woodworth also said he was working on new graphics for the Center’s “Good Neighbor Policy” notice. But because the former school building is a designated landmark, there are restrictions on what may be posted on the exterior of the building.

The Good Neighbor notice urges visitors not to hang out in front of the Center before or after events and admonishes guests to keep the noise down. “Cooperate with the Information and Referral Staff when they ask you to comply with the Good Neighbor Policy,” the notice says.

The policy was established shortly after the Center was founded in 1983. The building underwent an extensive interior renovation from 1998 until 2001, during which it operated out of a swing space on Little W. 12th St. Complaints by 13th St. neighbors resumed shortly after the Center re-opened.

Esterson, co-chairperson of the L.G.B.T. Center board of trustees, said that people who congregate outside the building probably are not aware they are disrupting the neighborhood. “I’m sure most of them would move on if they knew,” he said.

Quinn agreed. “This is a common community complaint and institutions have to remind people that they are part of a neighborhood,” she said.


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