Last night, Community Board 3 once again took up the contentious issue of its relationship with neighborhood block associations.
CB3 Chairperson Gigi Li assigned four board members to review policies regarding community groups following a highly publicized spat with the LES Dwellers community organization. They were tasked with proposing new procedures for interacting with block associations, after the board’s current policy came under heavy criticism. At the end of a lengthy discussion last night by members of CB3’s executive committee and the committee that reviews liquor license applications, Li decided to give the process one more month before revised policies are put up for a vote by the full board.
Currently, CB3 requires liquor license applicants to contact “block associations or tenant associations” in the “immediate vicinity” of proposed restaurants and bars. Neighborhood groups that meet the board’s criteria are often empowered to negotiate operating restrictions (stipulations) with applicants. This policy, which has only been in place for the past year, was called into question earlier in the fall when Li suspended the Dwellers’ block association status. Many people, including some board members, argued that CB3 should not put itself in the position of judging the legitimacy of neighborhood groups.
The board members charged with coming up with recommendations agreed. They presented a draft plan which is intended, member Justin Carroll said, “to maximize chances for community participation.” In liquor license applications and in a range of other issues, the board would seek input from a variety of community organizations, not just block associations, including civic groups, community garden groups, etc. Interested organizations would be listed on the community board web site and they would be asked to present CB3’s committees with a form offering details about their membership numbers, coverage area and publicly scheduled meetings. But CB3’s office would not evaluate them; it would be up to individual board members to decide how much weight to give their comments. Also, the onus would be on community groups and applicants to contact one another; the office would no longer be responsible for connecting the two sides.
While the proposal was generally well received, some issues remain unresolved. For example, there are differing opinions as to whether applicants should be required to contact neighborhood groups. Carol Kostik, a member of the State Liquor Authority (SLA) committee, said she had reservations about shifting the burden to individual panel members. “It would increase the amount of work” at committee meetings, which frequently stretch into the wee hours of the morning. Luke Henry, a public member of the SLA committee, acknowledged there’s a big burden on the office, which is cast in the position of matchmaker between applicants and block associations. But he objected to the part of the plan requiring local groups to fill out a form. “I don’t think it serves the goal of increasing community engagement,” he said.
Representatives from the LES Dwellers were not present last night, although residents from other block associations did attend the meeting. One member of the North Avenue A block association said her group has had a “sometimes frustrating” but “overall very rewarding” relationship with Community Board 3. But the ordeal involving the LES Dwellers, she added, was an embarrassment. “Any attempt to define, regulate, impose rules on neighborhood groups really deserves our input. The lack of public input is a real problem.”
Another block association leader, K Webster, referenced the recent Dweller drama, saying, “I didn’t like the tactics used but I understand the frustration.” Webster added, “something is not working for the community. Neighbors are forced to become inspectors, police” in order to keep bars in check. She called on the community board to strengthen ties to community groups, a plea she made in an editorial on The Lo-Down a year ago.
Dale Goodson of the North Avenue A association, also spoke out, saying he believed the board should give residents more time to consider the new proposals. He also expressed concerns that neighborhood groups are being held accountable whereas applicants and the community board itself lack accountability. “The ball is really in the applicants’ court,” he argued. “It’s really an insane process for residents.”
At one point during the conversation, board member Ariel Palitz, a bar owner, argued that CB3 should figure out a way to keep irresponsible block associations in check. In the past, she has complained about tactics used by the LES Dwellers and other groups. Most other members seemed to suggest, however, that it was a separate issue that could not be addressed in the current proposals before the board.
The draft plan will now be condensed and published on CB3’s web site (we will post a link when it’s available). The public will be invited to make additional comments at next month’s executive committee meeting. The full board is expected to vote on the procedures at the end of December.
As a temporary step, CB3 is posting contact info for known block associations to its web site. Applicants will be directed to consult that listing when they contact the office.