Acrimonious Evening at the CB3 Licensing Committee

Residents of the Lower East side came out in force last night to oppose several restaurants seeking liquor licenses. It was a tense night full of face to face confrontations between those residents and restaurant owners. Community Board 3 members serving on the alcohol licensing committee struggled to find the right balance between the two groups.

The largest and most organized opposition came from the residents surrounding a new restaurant planned for the corner of Essex and Canal. As we reported Sunday, the East Canal Neighborhood Association is determined to prevent their block from becoming a “mini-Ludlow,” littered with bars, plagued with late night noise and bursting with drunken crowds. The restaurant’s backers own the building, and have leased space to a green grocer and a shoe store. They hope to open a “family friendly” restaurant patterned after the restaurant at the Inn at Irving Place, which they also own. In explaining their rationale for a full liquor license, they said they wanted to attract a “European clientele.”

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The residents, many of whom live in the luxury building next door, 7 Essex, complained that the concept sounded too much like Les Enfants Terribles, the restaurant and popular late night hangout at the opposite end of the block. Committee member Meghan Joye said, as a bar owner and mother,  she resented the fact that the group presented letters from school principals and mothers concerned about the restaurant’s impact on their kids. Joye added, “they’re not going to be selling coke on the street.”

Chair Alexandra Militano said the overwhelming opposition left the committee with little choice but to reject the liquor license application but she called the predicament “unfortunate.” She said it was extraordinary that the owners had found a grocer to move into the building – no landlord wants a grocery, “they don’t make money,” she said. The applicant said finding quality tenants had been difficult – only fast food operations like KFC and Dunkin’ Donuts had expressed interest.

Amy Carlson, representing the residents responded that they had no desire “to do a disservice to the community.” But she also said they did not want to negotiate a compromise. The committee scolded both sides for failing to work out their differences in advance.

Followup: Opposition to New Restaurant

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Last week we told you about a new restaurant planned for the corner of Essex and Canal. A Community Board 3 committee signaled its support for a liquor license for the still unnamed establishment at 1 Essex. But last night local residents appeared before the full Community Board to protest the decision. They did not come to the committee meeting because they said the application had been removed from the published agenda. During the committee meeting, even some board members seemed surprised the “1 Essex” application was, in fact, going to be heard. Chair Alexandra Militano said she had not read the application in advance because she believed it was not on the agenda.

The people who spoke last night said there are already 11 liquor licenses within 500 feet of “1 Essex.” If there are already three restaurants/bars with liquor licenses within 500 feet of a business seeking permission to serve alcohol, the committee requires that business to prove the “public benefit” of awarding a new license. The residents said they do not want to see the area below Delancey become another Rivington Street, over-saturated with late night bars and clubs. The group asked CB3 to send the issue back to the committee, so that they’ll be able to voice their opposition.

During last week’s meeting, committee members did not seem to view the application as particularly controversial, and not only because no one was present to oppose it. The board members appeared to agree that the proposed restaurant is not in an area over-saturated with liquor licenses.

At last night’s session there was a more general debate about the awarding of liquor licenses. Most members expressed the sentiment that the infestation of bars on the Lower East Side has seriously harmed the quality of life in the neighborhood. There was a dissenting point of view. Board member Meghan Joye voiced the concern that restaurants, small businesses that fuel local economies, should not be run out of town.

Repeated efforts to reach the owners of “1 Essex” have been unsuccessful. We’ll be following this one closely. Stay tuned.