May 20, 2014 By Christian Murray
A Long Island City civic group is urging Community Board 2 to be more flexible and allow restaurants and bars on Vernon Boulevard to use their rear yard space—at least on a limited basis.
Brent O’Leary, the president of the Hunters Point Civic Association, said, “The consensus of our members and a large part of our community is that the policy towards use of rear yards is too restrictive. “
O’Leary’s group, which was founded in 2012 and meets monthly, said the organization sees “no reason why establishments should be prevented from using their yards as long as reasonable hours and noise restrictions are adhered to.”
The group’s formal position on the matter comes just one week after it held a monthly meeting at the New York Irish Center, where the majority of the 30-plus attendees said that the community board was being too rigid and needs to compromise.
Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer had representatives at the meeting. Both acted as observers and did not speak on the topic.
The group’s position comes at time when the community board is creating some guidelines that will apply to new applications for rear-yard open spaces in Hunters Point.
The community board has been able to stop bar/restaurant owners from using their backyards by threatening to block their liquor license applications if they keep them open.
Patrick O’Brien, the chairman of the Community Board 2’s City Service/Public Safety Committee that oversees liquor licenses, said that he is working on a general policy that aims to recognize the rights of all parties, which he will present to the City Service committee at its June meeting and then to the full board.
However, many of the guidelines—which will aim to tackle the thorny issues of noise—will still remain open to interpretation.
O’Leary’s group calls on the board to take into account the changing tide in favor of rear yard space.
“We ask our community board and the liquor authority to take into account the large part of our community asking for rear yard use,” O’Leary said. “We ask them to note the petition to allow rear yard use in the neighborhood signed by 632 people.”
O’Leary, speaking on behalf of members, contends that while “complete silence would be nice, we accept the fact that we live in a city, in close proximity to each other and that certain noise is unavoidable. Rear yard dining is enjoyed in every other neighborhood in New York and can be handled reasonably in Long Island City.”
“The businesses have indicated that they are amendable to reasonable restrictions as to hours of use and noise level and we welcome this discussion to allow all parties to come to a compromise,” the statement read.
However, at last Wednesday’s monthly City Services Committee meeting, O’Brien was not convinced by these arguments, which had become part of the public discourse.
O’Brien said that New York has a public policy where people have the right to the quiet enjoyment of their property, while people who run businesses do so under a license. “Licenses are not rights but are privileges,” he said.
O’Brien questioned the petition. He said that many of the 600-700 who signed it did so anonymously, so it is difficult to tell how close they are to the bars and restaurants in question. “We want to see names and addresses,” O’Brien said.
Furthermore, he said, recent data indicates that there are 7,000 to 8,000 residents in Hunters Point so while 600-700 is a good number it doesn’t reflect the majority.
O’Brien said that the guidelines might call for a bar/restaurant owner to reach out to all residents within a certain radius of where the backyard space would be. The bar/restaurant owner would then be required to ask the residents to fill out a standardized form stating whether they favor it, oppose it or do not have an opinion on it.
“If you live right above something [a restaurant] your opinion will carry more weight that someone that lives 2 miles away or even 3 blocks away,” O’Brien said.