Volume 74, Number 28 | November 17 - 22, 2004

Villager photo by Jennifer Bodrow

Sushi Samba 7 and its illegal rooftop tent on Seventh Ave. S.

Landmarks bento out of shape over Sushi Samba rooftop tent

By Lincoln Anderson

Is it just the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and a couple of neighbors who think so — or is there something fishy about how Sushi Samba 7 has been able to avoid bringing its rooftop dining area into compliance with landmark regulations for three years?

Known for its popularity among calorie-conscious models, Sushi Samba 7, on Seventh Ave. S. at Barrow St., was originally given approval by L.P.C. for an unenclosed rooftop trellis. But the restaurant covered it with a tent.

Trying to bring the restaurant into line with the Greenwich Village Historic District’s aesthetics, L.P.C. hauled Sushi Samba into court. To the puzzlement and chagrin of neighbors and the commission, though, the Civil Court judge on the case — Faviola Soto — has taken no action to rectify the situation, notably refusing to issue an injunction to take the existing rooftop structure down.

Eventually, L.P.C. agreed it would be acceptable if Sushi Samba 7 built a permanent, enclosed, second-story structure, replacing the nonconforming tent. Yet, though Sushi Samba proposed a design for the permanent structure, it hasn’t shown any signs of building it.

A general manager at Sushi Samba 7 referred questions to spokespersons at the restaurant’s business office who did not return phone calls.

According to Gabrielle Jones, a tenant in the Barrow St. apartment building next door, the restaurant got approval for the new second-story addition on Sept. 7 and is supposed to complete it by March 15.

Jones said she’s upset neighbors weren’t notified by Community Board 2’s Landmarks Committee to preview the plans “to see if it affects us — if windows are blocked or where the [restaurant’s] air conditioners are. By the time we found out about the meeting, Landmarks was voting on it,” she said. Sean Sweeney, the committee’s chairperson, said posters were put up publicizing the meeting.

Jones admits noise will be cut down, since, by her understanding, the second story will now be largely enclosed, with sliding windows only on Seventh Ave.

“Are we glad?” Jones asked. “If there were 150 people outside your window each night, wouldn’t you be glad if they enclosed it?”
Like the neighbors, L.P.C.’s frustration level is high by this point.

“We are seeking substantial fines and an injunction [in court],” said Mark Silberman, L.P.C. general counsel. The commission just wants the raw-fish restaurant “to cure, to stop violation — to put in the rooftop structure,” he said.

Landmarks, in fact, is seeking a fine of $5,000 for each day over the last three years the restaurant has operated with the illegal rooftop tent — potentially more than $5 million.

The high fine is intended “to recoup some of the profit they’ve made from operating with an illegal, enclosed rooftop addition,” Silberman said.

“This is not a complicated case,” Silberman continued. “These people received a permit. They violated the permit. The judge has upheld our decision not to legalize the existing conditions. Meanwhile, they’ve dragged their feet and continued to operate in the illegal addition and reap substantial profits.”

Diane Jackier, a Landmarks spokesperson, said there may be a decision within three weeks on Landmarks’ requests for an injunction and fines.

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