As mentioned a couple of days ago, the Lower East Side Dwellers and management of The DL, the nightlife venue at 95 Delancey St., will be meeting tomorrow evening. The tri-level entertainment complex has had a rough relationship with some neighbors since opening at the end of 2011. Another issue that’s come up in recent weeks is the increasingly tense interplay between the Dwellers, a neighborhood group founded last year, and Community Board 3.
Last month, CB3 approved a resolution acknowledging that residents have “complained about noise from (The DL’s) roof top and noise and crowds from patrons on the sidewalk… as well as poor management of the sidewalk and have submitted documentation (seeming to show) that they are hosting regularly scheduled promoted events and hosts weekly dance parties, which violates the (venue’s operating agreement).” But at the same time, the resolution called on residents and management to hold a meeting to “address complaints” before returning to the community board this month. CB3 leaders have said they would consider asking for additional restrictions on The DL’s license, even though the State Liquor Authority (SLA) went ahead and approved the renewal in early September, before the community board weighed in on the matter.
The Dwellers were outraged about the renewal and have criticized CB3 for what they see as its failure to deal with troublesome nightlife venues and to fight on behalf of residents fed up with the Lower East Side’s boisterous bars and clubs. The community board, on the other hand, has signaled that it believes the Dwellers group is circumventing and undermining CB3’s office, and dealing with bars in a counterproductive manner.
This week, William Crowley, the SLA’s director of public affairs, told The Lo-Down that “renewal applicants must notify their community boards 30 days prior to filing their renewal” with the state. But in many cases, he noted, the agency does not receive recommendations from local boards. In this case, it appears the SLA processed the DL’s paperwork early. While CB3 keeps a list of upcoming permit renewals for controversial venues, on this occasion, the renewal slipped through before a community board hearing could be scheduled. In the past, the SLA has been willing to consider additional permit restrictions even after a renewal has been granted, so CB3 does not consider it problematic to hear most renewal applications even after the SLA has acted.
Yesterday, we talked with Diem Boyd and Sara Romanoski, two leaders of the Dwellers organization. Speaking generally (not necessarily about The DL), Romanoski said, “maybe there’s a better process to deal with problem venues… There are cracks in the system. We are told repeatedly that the renewal (process) is our time to review (how venues are operating and whether there are community concerns that need to be addressed).” Yet since the CB3 office does not schedule public hearings for renewal applications in which there are no complaints against a venue, she added, “the community is cut out of the process. All renewal applications should be made public so we can respond.”
At last month’s full board meeting, CB3 Chairperson Gigi Li, in effect, admonished the Dwellers, without naming the group, for failing to share information they had collected against The DL before a committee meeting. “When new information is introduced in meetings,” she said, that the office has not had a chance to review, board members are forced to vote on items without adequate information and it can “have the effect of undermining the credibility of the board.”
The Dwellers say they have always submitted evidence to the board in the past but chose not to do so in the case of The DL because they learned that CB3 had not alerted the SLA of violations taking place at the venue, including “open bar” promotions. The group had no confidence that the community board was dealing with the issues, they said. Boyd added that SLA officials have told her she “absolutely has the right” to report infractions directly to the authority. In public meetings, CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer has said she was waiting for the Dwellers and the management of The DL to hold their meeting before forwarding complaints to the SLA. The venue’s managing partner, Paul Seres, has indicated that the Dwellers have been unwilling to meet until now. In yesterday’s conversation, Boyd said that her fledgling volunteer group has been so busy battling other neighborhood bars that scheduling a meeting was difficult. “We should have responded more promptly,” she said. But Boyd continued, “we pleaded with him to address known problems,” and as far as members of her group are concerned, it makes little sense to be “negotiating when he is breaking the law.”
More broadly, the Dwellers do not agree with the community board’s strategy. Rather than simply asking the SLA to impose more restrictions on problem operators, they would like to see the board take a stronger stand, denying some renewal applications. CB3 leaders have indicated that a more uncompromising approach would put at risk a fairly good working relationship with the liquor authority and ignores the fact that liquor permits are very seldom revoked. No one, including the Dwellers, would deny that taking a permit away from an operator is a difficult process. We asked the SLA’s Crowley what types of violations can trigger a license revocation. His answer:
(Venues) operating outside of their approved method of operation, serious violations that have occurred repeatedly at the premises, etc. However, unless there is good cause shown, the SLA cannot deny the renewal of a license. If we receive complaints or referrals on violations, we will investigate, and/or charge the licensee with a violation.
As far as the Dwellers are concerned, there is ample evidence to pull The DL’s license (the liquor authority does not publicly confirm when it is investigating any venue). Referencing videos shot inside The DL after CB3’s SLA Committee met last month that showed apparent violations of the venue’s operating restrictions, Boyd asserted that “illegal behavior is continuing” at the club. At tomorrow’s meeting, she said, “we want to hear his explanation,” adding, “if you break the law, you should get shut down.” Arguing that neither the community board nor the 7th Precinct is monitoring The DL and acting on violations, she explained, “we will continue to watch and monitor and be patient.” Romanoski said, “the goal is to get it under control, no matter how long it takes.” Asked whether there is any concession The DL could make that would appease members of the group, their response was, “no.”
In a conversation this afternoon, Seres said he continues to be willing to work through differences with neighbors. He said the venue has responded to concerns from other local entities, including the Blue Moon Hotel, which had complained about late night noise. While he said there have been some issues with “people who came in from the outside” for some events, Seres argued that the business is following its agreed upon stipulations. When asked about the Dwellers’ posture going into tomorrow’s meeting, Seres said, “it’s a shame but indicative to their approach to businesses in this neighborhood.” He added, “we have a great relationship with the (community) board, but it seems like they (the Dwellers) are going out and doing their own thing… If the only goal of the meeting is to warn us, it’s going to be a quick meeting.”