Volume 23, Number 9 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | July 9 - 15, 2010
SLA upgrades better for all parties
By MICHAEL MANDELKERN
The State Liquor Authority will receive $2.4 million from the state this summer to improve community transparency and expedite the liquor license approval process. The move has the potential to please locals with nighttime concerns and nightspot owners with open doors to thirsty residents.
State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver pushed for the reform during a late-June budget extender meeting with Governor Paterson about passing the law that provides enough money in the budget for the S.L.A. changes.
The S.L.A. website will now offer community boards and concerned citizens more information if an owner has committed violations in the past at other establishments and been problematic in other neighborhoods.
The liquor-licensing process will become more efficient by accepting online applications. The S.L.A. used to type up handwritten documents.
Paterson views the law as a spur to the economy by allowing bars to open sooner, in turn providing jobs quicker.
“The State Liquor Authority issues and oversees the beer, wine and liquor licenses which are a critical component of New York’s economy,” said Paterson through a press release.
“It’s good for everyone. It’s going to lead to better conclusions so that dense areas don’t have problems and less dense places won’t either,” said Squadron in reference to both neighborhoods overcrowded with bars and more quiet areas.
He also criticized how the S.L.A. conducted the liquor license application process in the past.
“The S.L.A.’s historic inefficiency has been bad for everyone,” said Squadron, adding that the law will “empower the community to fight them better” if the S.L.A. were to make a questionable call in the public’s eye.
“It will create a fair, more community-friendly environment,” he said. “It allows the right kind of places to open up.”
Bill Crowley, director of public and legislative affairs at the S.L.A., believes that the new law will shrink the time gap between owners applying for liquor licenses and finding out whether they have been accepted or declined.
By October, when the S.L.A. is supposed to have cleared up its backlog, he thinks a license could be determined within two months as opposed to the nine months the process has sometimes taken in the past.
But Crowley asserted that “the decisions won’t be affected by a shorter time frame” in terms of community concerns. He referred to lawsuits that have been filed in New York Supreme Court. In some cases, the court ruled in favor of the community, forcing the S.L.A. to rescind licenses.
“They [C.B. members] are doing a great job, and this is another tool,” said Squadron.
Customarily, owners aiming for Lower Manhattan make proposals to a local Community Board committee and answer questions. If there haven’t been excessive past grievances and there aren’t any schools nearby, “then they have a good chance” of receiving C.B. approval, said Dennis Gault, a C.B. 1 board member who sits on the Battery Park City Committee.
Businesses are not required to stand before a C.B. committee but Squadron co-sponsored a bill in March currently sitting in the Assembly that would require the S.L.A. to take community board concerns into consideration when an owner applies for a liquor license somewhere within 500 feet of the property line of at least three other nightspots.
“It’s good that we can weigh in,” said Gault.
C.B. 1 asks owners to disclose what hours they would operate and the volume of their music, if any.
Margaret Liu, owner of Kaijou, a Japanese cuisine located on 21 South End Avenue that opened in B.P.C. three years ago, applied for an outdoor liquor license at Tuesday’s B.P.C. Committee meeting. The restaurant is only able to serve alcohol indoors.
Some C.B. 1 members expressed concern about Kaijou’s dining tables on South End Avenue, which is also residential property, but they agreed that it wouldn’t be an issue with the B.P.C. Committee but rather for the building’s owner.
After about ten minutes of discussion, the committee unanimously voted in favor of Kaijou having an outdoor liquor license.
Majority C.B. 1 committee approval is sometimes followed by a full C.B. 1 discussion and then a full C.B. 1 board vote. At least half of its members must support an agenda for official full C.B. 1 approval
When Paula Wang, manager of Kaijou, was asked if she was nervous during the meeting she said, “not really,” adding that middle-aged men and women have been requesting to drink outside in recent months and were annoyed to hear that they couldn’t.
Jeff Galloway, co-chair of the B.P.C. Committee, said that although some C.B. 1 members are concerned about the recent development of bars in Tribeca, B.P.C. has the opposite problem.
“We don’t need a place that attracts a wild clientele, but we could certainly use more bar-restaurants,” said Galloway, who believes B.P.C. lacks the entertainment that nearby Tribeca provides. “I’d say Battery Park City is fairly welcoming. There’s a wide spectrum of people that wouldn’t mind having a drink close by.”
Galloway is aware, however, that some members of the B.P.C. community would appreciate balance between a vibrant nightlife and peaceful slumber.
“People like a lively street life but also peace and quiet,” he said.
Galloway is a lawyer but insists that while his education has shaped his thought process he is not acutely familiar with real estate and liquor licensing law.
Traffic violations, noise disturbances and police referrals are all scrutinized factors when the S.L.A. reviews a nightspot’s license application. Only those who own or are leasing a space are eligible for a liquor license.
“This money will be critical to helping us continue the progress we’ve been making in eliminating the backlog and will help us prevent backlogs from occurring in the future. We have made tremendous progress over the last year in strengthening our relationships with community leaders throughout the State. I am confident that we can build upon those efforts, making sure that transparency is emphasized in a way that helps facilitate licensing decisions,” said S.L.A. chairman Dennis Rosen through a press release.