Volume 20, Number 50 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | April 27 - May 3, 2011
Getting tough on booze licenses
BY Aline Reynolds
Applications for new Downtown bars will be scrutinized more closely than in the past if a proposal by Community Board 1’s State Liquor Authority Process Review Task Force goes through.
The task force is recommending modifications to the questionnaire restaurants and bars must fill out when soliciting the board’s advisory approval to be granted liquor licenses.
The purpose of doing so, C.B. 1 Director of Planning and Land Use Michael Levine explained, is to “make sure that all applicants get a fair hearing,” and provide committee members with sufficient information about the applicants to be able to make informed decisions.
“We’ve made the questionnaire better and stronger, with more information in it, so we can apply our standards consistently C.B. 1-wide,” said Levine.
Having a “clear” and “concise” questionnaire will help expedite the committees’ evaluations, according to task force member Anthony Notaro.
“It tightened up the process and gives [the questionnaire] little nuances that really enhance our ability to review and decide on liquor licenses at the geographic level,” said Notaro.
The amended S.L.A. questionnaire asks venue owners to disclose the approximate number of residential units on the property in question, as well as an estimated count of residential buildings adjacent, abutting and across the street from the property. It also inquires about the property’s zoning designation.
In addition, the task force added a new “public notice” section to the questionnaire, asking that applicants demonstrate “good-faith efforts” to alert neighbors of their intentions – for example, by collecting signatures of supportive neighbors, scheduling meetings with the management of nearby residences and sponsoring newspaper advertisements of C.B. 1’s public meetings.
The questionnaire also asks about the number of stand-up bars and food counters the venue has, along with a description of the spaces, if the owner plans to play music and, if so, whether the music will serve as featured entertainment or background listening.
Task force members pointed out, however, that “background music” might still be loud enough to wake up nearby residents, so the group decided to add a question about whether the audio played at the venue will be amplified or acoustic.
“The reason you’re doing this is to ensure that they don’t disturb neighbors,” said task force member Rebecca Skinner. “It’s not the type of music [that is important] – it’s the volume.”
Finally, the questionnaire inquires about the bar’s planned security measures – specifically, how much security staff it will have and what mitigation tactics its staff would use to minimize the noise created by patrons loitering outside the venue.
Task force chair Marc Ameruso objected to questioning the applicants about background checks on their security personnel, an idea proposed by a few task force members, deeming it overly intrusive. The task force ultimately concurred with Ameruso.
The group also wants to tighten the reins on liquor license applicants making ownership transfers. “We’re requiring that every transfer come before us as if it’s a new license,” said Levine. “If they tell us it’s a different establishment, they go through full scrutiny. We’re more suspicious now.”
The task force will circulate the revised questionnaire to the committee co-chairs and then submit it for approval to the full board at its May 24 meeting. The group will also ask to continue meeting on a regular basis to “deal with issues periodically, as they come along.”
The task force decided against centralizing the board’s current application system, which assigns each C.B. 1 committee S.L.A. questionnaires according to the venue’s geographic locations.
“People in different committees feel very differently about what they want … in an establishment,” said Notaro.
“Committee members walk the streets [of the neighborhood] every day, and know what they’re like,” echoed Levine.
Task force co-chair Jeff Ehrlich, however, said he would prefer creating an S.L.A. committee that would be responsible for reviewing liquor license applications across C.B. 1 neighborhoods.
“You gain a consistency in how things are judged, which is good for the applicants and the residents,” said Ehrlich, comparing it to the board’s Landmarks Committee, whose members have specialized knowledge to be able to make board-wide landmarking decisions.
The full board will have the final say in determining which system to implement, according to Ameruso.