Volume 73, Number 43 | February 25 - March 2, 2004

New Gottfried bill would allow S.L.A. to enforce liquor license conditions

By Albert Amateau

Chelsea Assemblymember Richard Gottfried has proposed state legislation intended to make the State Liquor Authority more responsive to community concerns. A Gottfried bill unanimously passed by the Assembly earlier this month would give the S.L.A. power to enforce conditions attached to liquor licenses.

“The bill will ensure that when community boards or other groups negotiate stipulations with an applicant for a bar, club or restaurant liquor license, the S.L.A. will have the authority to penalize the licensee for violating the terms. Right now, they are almost impossible to enforce,” Gottfried said.

The same bill passed the Assembly in each of the two previous sessions but died in the Republican Senate. This year, a Republican, Sen. Frank Padavan, of Queens, is sponsoring the Senate bill.

Community boards have long been able to negotiate with bar owners to stipulate conditions on license applications in hopes of preventing disruption to their neighborhoods, noted Dan Golub, a legislative aide to Gottfried.

“But when the bars later ignore the conditions and community boards ask the S.L.A. to enforce them, the agency throws ups its hands,” said Golub. “The agency says it would have to prove the applicant intended to violate the stipulations when he signed on. We don’t think the S.L.A. does have to prove intent, but this law would give the agency specific power to penalize bars that violate those stipulations for any reason,” Golub said.

The bill is part of a package of legislation that Gottfried plans to bring to this session of the Legislature to improve the liquor license notification and hearing process. The proposals were developed from complaints that community boards and neighborhood associations have had with the license review process.

The current requirement that license applicants give community boards 30 days notice for review would be amended to 60 days notice. Some bar owners wait until August when most community boards don’t meet and by the time the boards resume, the licenses have been granted, Golub said.

Gottfried also intends to require more information on liquor license application notices. “We think community boards should be able to see complete applications, not just a name and an address,” Golub said.

Legislation to provide community boards with notice and allow them to testify at all hearings involving license holders is another legislative priority. In addition, Gottfried said he wants to make sure local boards are notified and allowed to testify when new owners apply for licenses at existing locations.

The S.L.A. is required to hold a hearing whenever there are three or more licensed premises within 500 feet of a new location to determine if a new license is “in the public interest.” The 500-foot rule was enacted to review the potential over-saturation of a neighborhood by bars and club. “All too often, the S.L.A. grants a license after a 500-foot hearing, saying it’s in the public interest because it will generate tax revenue,” Golub said. “We want a better definition of public interest.”
Earlier this year, members of the Flatiron Alliance, roughly from 14th St. to 24th St. between Park Ave. S. and Seventh Ave., charged the S.L.A. with violating the spirit of the 500-foot rule by granting licenses in a neighborhood long plagued with noisy bars and clubs.

The Flatiron Alliance earlier this year threatened to file a class-action suit against the agency and has a pending lawsuit challenging the license the S.L.A. granted to the former Limelight on 20th St. and Sixth Ave. The Limelight closed last year and is operating as Avalon with a new license.

Recently, Community Board 3’s S.L.A. Committee lost patience with the agency and resolved to automatically reject license applications in the East Village and parts of the Lower East Side. “We’re trying to tell the S.L.A. the same thing in new ways — that the area is over-saturated with bars,” said Alexandra Militano, chairperson of C.B. 3’s S.L.A. Committee.

However, community board recommendations are strictly advisory and are not binding on the agency. C.B. 3’s full board is expected to vote on the S.L.A. Committee resolution on Feb. 24.


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