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After Heated Debate, CB3 Approves Liquor Permit For New Restaurant From Forgtmenot Team

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49 Monroe St., the site of a new restaurant from the Forgtmenot team.
49 Monroe St., the site of a new restaurant from the Forgtmenot team.

Community Board 3 voted 27-11 last night to support a liquor permit application for a new restaurant on Monroe Street from the team that owns Forgtmenot and Kiki’s. But beforehand, there was a lengthy and contentious debate about gentrification and nightlife encroachment in one of the last unspoiled sections of Manhattan.

The operators of the popular Division Street spots are planning to open a 2500 sq. ft. Southern European restaurant in a  commercial building at 49 Monroe St., across from Coleman Skatepark. Earlier this month, CB3’s SLA Committee recommended approval of the liquor license, while acknowledging opposition from 81 local residents who signed a petition circulated by the Orchard Street Block Association. Members of the panel cited the owners’ reputation on Division Street as responsible operators sensitive to concerns from neighbors.

But last night new opposition surfaced from residents of Knickerbocker Village, the large residential complex located on Monroe Street a block to the west of the new restaurant. Even before the meeting began, we received a press release from a new group called the “Two Bridges Neighborhood Association.” Lead organizer Jenny Yu said in a statement, “The residents of Two Bridges are a tight-knit community and are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that any changes serve for the betterment of our residents, and there continues to be a place where hard working-class New Yorkers have a place to call home and raise their families.”

They came last night armed with 400 signatures and letters. Isabel Reyna Torres, a member of Knickerbocker Village Tenants’ Association, recounted an incident this past November at 49 Monroe St. — a private event in the building — that caused “immense noise and chaos” and ended in a visit by cops from the 5th Precinct. Paul Sierros, co-owner of the new business, noted that he hadn’t even signed a lease until January 1 and had nothing to do with the event Torres highlighted.

A pastor from Chinese Mission Church at 31 Monroe St. spoke against a full liquor permit, saying the area is “a family oriented” neighborhood. Another speaker asked whether it is the community board’s job to “protect businesses trying to exploit the neighborhood” or to protect local residents.

The board also heard from supporters of the Forgtmenot team. Michael Goldman, a Knickerbocker Village resident, said the original restaurant became a home-away-from-home for him shortly after moving to the area four years ago. He said the operators are small business owners, not corporate interlopers, that their “identity is consistent with the neighborhood” and that they do not represent gentrification in any way.

Following public remarks, board members had their say. Cathy Deng, an affordable housing activist, said her organization (CAAAV) has been advocating for tenants being squeezed out of buildings on Monroe Street. When one nightlife establishment comes into an area, she argued, “we start to see other problems,” referring to more restaurants, rent hikes and displacement of residential tenants.

Another board member, Anne Johnson, said she hoped the food would be affordable to the local community, which is predominantly working class and low income. “I have just as many concerns about gentrification” as the residents, Johnson said.  Val Jones agreed, asserting that the restaurant is “moving into new territory,” a part of the neighborhood where “we don’t have a lot of bars and don’t want a lot of bars.”

“As a community,” she said, “we should say we support the residents.” Noting that the restaurant is across from a playground, Jones called the liquor permit a question of public health.

But Meghan Joye (co-owner of bars such as Lucky Jack’s and Donnybrook) noted that the State Liquor Authority would almost certainly approve the permit. The 500 Foot Law, which triggers a state hearing, does not apply because there aren’t three or more existing liquor licenses within striking distance of the new establishment. Since the applicant runs two other businesses with impeccable records, she said, and because Sierros already agreed to scale back his hours, the permit is basically “a gimme.” Personally, Joye added, she found it offensive (as a bar owner and mother of young children) to hear people say that a liquor license shouldn’t be approved near a park where children play. Using phrases such as, “exploiting our neighborhood,” she argued, is over the line in talking about “a guy who has proven he is part of this community.”

MyPhuong Chung, who lives a block away from Forgtmenot and Kiki’s, called the owners, “really wonderful neighbors” and said of Sierros, “He has a track record of running his business responsibly.”

Board member Enrique Cruz said he understood the residents’ concerns but urged them “to be sensible.” Sierros previously agreed to close the restaurant at midnight during the week and at 1 a.m. on weekends. Rejecting the proposal, Cruz cautioned would likely lead to longer hours and no operating restrictions, which the community board routinely negotiates with nightlife operators.

In the end, a majority of the board agreed.  Sierros said he would close on Thursdays by midnight, rather than 1 a.m. Board members also asked him to agree to shorter hours on the weekends, but Sierros said he’d already made as many concessions as he could make and still run a viable business. The final decision is, of course, up to the State Liquor Authority.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. My dad had an apartment in Knickerbocker Village while he worked in Chinatown. Gentrification is a real pressing issue as many people, esp senior citizens in Chinatown need a safe place to live — one that they are familiar with and have called home for years. It is unreasonable to ask these Chinese residents to abruptly change their traditional lifestyles to accommodate newcomers who will be drinking hard liquor and likely while intoxicated engage in reckless, dangerous perhaps even violent activities that would disturb the quality of gentle living the residents are used to and have come to expect from their neighborhoods. It is the residents’ rights to a high quality life that need to be respected here. Newcomer restaurant owners and patrons know nothing about the culture in that neighborhood and more often than not would violate the residents’ rights. That is just morally and ethically wrong. Unless the new restaurant owners can show proof that they are thoroughly educated in the ways of the residents and that they respect and understand their concerns and provide viable solutions, their liquor license needs to be rescinded.

  2. I live in the neighborhood, and I am very skeptical of any full liquour application. It’s hard not to be scared of the potential disruptions when we live so close to areas like Stanton and Orchard and Ludlow Streets. If you talk to any of the residents there, you hear of horror stories of drunk people vomiting, urinating, defecating in residential doors, hallways, and stairs. In our neighborhood, it would translate to vomiting, urinating, and defecating in areas highly travelled by children and elderly with weaker immune systems. They are across from a park, near preschools, temples, and churches. There are schools and little league teams that use the baseball field right across the street.. How would they explain why the benches smell like urine, or the children in the skate park which is also across the street find vomit on their space. Although the applicant seems to run very respectable businesses, it’s hard to control who patrons the business, and where they go after. Mr. Fong’s is an example of a local bar that is already causing issues in the few months they were opened, already showing these issues. Since a majority of trouble makers seem to be out later in the evening, I think a 12am close time is a very reasonable request at stemming the potential disruptions to the community.

  3. It is short-sighted and simplistic to think that the Residents of Knickerbocker are fighting a liquor license. The movement forming in Two Bridges is a response to what will be the inevitable future for Two Bridges if residents do not stand up for their neighborhood. The evidence is everywhere in the Lower East Side of what the residents of Two Bridges don’t want their working-class community to to turn into.

    The Lower East Side needs elected officials (and a community board) who understand that gentrification is tool for displacement. As such, they should be duty bound to find ways to slow it down not support it.

    Displacement is considered a human rights violation outside the US. It is not a natural or inevitable process, but one brought about by land owners and policy makers to yield specific effects against targeted populations.

    CB3 opting to protect one neighborhood with 12AM closing for the same operator but 1AM in Two Bridges seems that some sections of the community matter more than the others?

  4. “elected officials (and a community board)” — please don’t over-estimate the power of a community board… or lack thereof. CB’s are only ever advisory with no real power. better stick to elected officials… if you can find one. and certainly don’t count on Margaret Chin. she’s in rebny’s pocket.

  5. I live in the area as well and was there at the meeting and feel that it’s a shame that the community board is not protecting the interest of the community and the people that actually live there. We as a community has already spoken and we passionately oppose a full liquor license being neccssary for our community where its predominantly children, senior citizens, and the working class. This establishment provides zero added value for the residents of the community but in the mean time adds a lot of unwanted nuisances instead. The board member that is a bar owner and mother should be ashamed for her comment that it’s perfectly fine for a bar to be across the street from a play ground as she does not live in our community. I personally would not want my children to grow up and be exposured to the type of clients that will go to this establishment. The supporters of this establishment should not compare their neighborhood where the owner has other establishments on Orchard/Divison Street as it has already gone through gentrification displacing local business and residents. That community also does not have the vast array of churches, schools, preschools, and other places of worship as our neighborhood has. If the owners are as good as they say and will work with the community then they should atleast consider a wine and beer license instead as it’s supposed to be a restaurant and not a bar, which leads me to think it’s a bait and switch game like Mr. Fongs which is a full blown bar and only serving peanuts as food. We the community is not opposed to new businesses but they should atleast be a betterment to our community instead of a nuisance.

  6. It’s infuriating that this owner believes that gentrification is not a crime and disappointing that certain board members would support a business that’s not in the neighborhood they live in. Last time I checked Lucky Jack’s and Donnybrooks is on Clinton and Orchard and NOWHERE NEAR TWO BRIDGES. It’s amazing how you can sit on a community board and not even be aware of the neighborhoods that you are supposed to represent. Residents are fighting for the same 12am protections that the residents were afforded on Division Street by CB3. This is a reasonable request for a residential neighborhood where 99% of the commercial establishments close by 9PM.

  7. I am a resident of Knickerbocker Village. Residents want the place to close at midnight every night. That is a perfectly reasonable request. His other restaurant on Division St / Canal St closes at midnight on all nights. I don’t know why he can’t do the same. Why is the Community Board discriminating against the residents of this area? What happens when people go to Coleman Park across the street on Saturday and Sunday mornings and see urine and vomit all over the place? This is a community for families with senior citizens and children. They don’t need bars with full liquor licenses that cater to people outside the neighborhood. Keep them away!

  8. The meeting last night was obnoxious as can be. CB3 was obviously not for the community after hearing 10 opposition speakers against 2 supporters of this business. The decision to approve their liquor license seemed to be solely based on reputations and not on what the community needs and wants. Each neighborhood is different and our neighborhood does not welcome another bar like Mr.Fongs that has already ruined our neighborhood enough. As for the lady that felt it was offensive Meghan Joye, the ACTUAL residents of the neighborhood within a block or two radius, WE DON’T WANT OUR CHILDREN TO BE NEAR A BAR, RESPECT THAT! How about this, this was OUR neighborhood to begin with, none of us are fond of this business so go and open up a bar or club or whatever you want somewhere else where you are welcomed. Cb3, you have seriously upset the community with the decision to approve their full liquor license. Thank you for taking part in displacing the locals especially the elderly and children. Good job

  9. Just what Chinatown Does Not Want or need, more drunks late at night!!! For shame – Gigi Li from CB3 kept her mouth shut! Speak mistake.

  10. As the LES/Chinatown community continues to become gentrified, it is incredibly sad to see families and senior residents lose their neighborhood to individuals who merely view the neighborhood as another economic opportunity!!! By starting businesses such as bars, clubs, and expensive restaurants, these businessmen are grouping together to serve a population that is clearly not representative of the residents in the LES area. Eventually, these residents will be forced out of their homes because of increased economic and social discomfort. Meanwhile.. the individuals who have invaded LES will feel increasingly more comfortable as the community’s facade starts to change Color… 10 years ago, these individuals would have never stepped foot in this area. Now, factories are turned into bars and nursing homes are turned into condos. Where is the justice?!

  11. It’s a shame that the community is becoming more gentrified. First, condos are replacing Pathmark on Cherry St. Second, Mr. Fong’s opened up at the corner of Market & Madison St. Now, there’s going to be a restaurant that doesn’t benefit the neighborhood. The community is no longer “Chinatown”. It’s becoming a breeding ground for hipsters. Pretty soon, the demographics of the neighborhood will change entirely. As for the owner of Lucky Jacks, she has no right to comment on this matter considering her bar is located within the Delancey/Essex area. The area is known for the nightlife, therefore it’s reasonable for her to run a bar there. You shouldn’t place a restaurant/bar right across from a skate park full of teenagers or 2 blocks away from an elementary/middle school.

  12. CB3 is NEVER for the community. We all know that. I think most of us are wasting our time here. It’s time to take down the heads of CB3. Susan Stetzer and her cronies troll all of these blogs on YOUR tax dollar and I have the evidence to prove it. HOW DO WE DISMANTLE Communist Board 3?

  13. While CB’s are made up of residents and business owners, the,CB should be,more,selective of who sits on certain,committees to avoid any conflict of interests. CB’s are there to represent the community it,serves and not outside interests.

  14. I’m not against the place but I wonder about it’s location being viable business-wise. Seems a bit out of the way. The other places are very well run and they don’t tolerate people being jerks on the street.

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