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Resident starts petition calling on Community Board to allow bars/restaurants to use backyard space

Lounge 47

Lounge 47, shortly before closing in Jan 2013

April 25, 2014 By Christian Murray

A Long Island City resident has started an online petition calling on Community Board 2 to allow restaurants and bars along Vernon Blvd to use their backyard space.

The petition is in response to the Community Board 2’s almost uniform denial of Vernon Blvd restaurants from using their backyard space. The board, which tries to represent the wishes of the community, is able to keep the backyards closed by making it a requirement in order for them to get their liquor license.

Restaurants such as Alobar, Blend, Lounge 47, Corner Bistro and L’inizio are just a few that have been told that in order to get their liquor license they must keep their yards closed.

Renee Katsaitis, who put the petition together, said she is fed up hearing from business owners that they are not permitted to open their backyard space. She and her friends like going to the bars and restaurants and want to sit outside and enjoy a drink and some food.

“It angers me that the neighborhood is being held hostage by one person or one group,” Katsaitis said. “I am organizing this so people are heard,” she said. “I also want to make sure that people show up at the meetings and fight back.”

Katsaitis, who has already generated about 75 signatures since posting her petition yesterday, said that those who are for outdoor seating have been at a disadvantage. “It’s not like they market these hearings,” she said. “There aren’t any posters put up or notices put under people’s doors,” she said. “It is not circulated via social media or on the Internet.”

Meanwhile, she said, the naysayers have ties to the community board and know well ahead of time.

Two Vernon Blvd restaurant owners, who have been denied the use of their yard, were unaware that there was a petition in the works.

Jeff Blath, who owns Alobar, said I guess “the regular people have had enough, and that they want their voices heard.”

Blath recently tried to get around the Community Board by taking his application—that would permit him to use his small outdoor space–to the State Liquor Authority. He had a hearing and lost based on the recommendation of the community board. (see hearing below)

Katsaitis said that it isn’t fair that struggling businesses are not able to use their yards and are paying rent on a rear yard that is “essentially growing weeds.”

Note this is not an endorsement of the petition

Alobar Hearing (March 25, 2014)

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42 Comments

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Thanks for sharing this nice article. I read it completely and get some interesting knowledge from this. I again thanks for sharing such a nice blog.

Reply
Alobar Owner

To Anyone who says that we don’t need the business:
At 11 AM today a table of 4 walked in.
Guy #1 says to his friends: this place has great brunch!
Guy #2 Says (to me): Is your back yard open?
Me: No, I’m sorry. But I can seat you right next to the open doors.
Guy #2: Oh, I really wanted to sit outside. Lets just go to Skinny’s.
Guy#1: The food here is better… but OK.

This happens multiple times a day every Saturday & Sunday that we have nice weather. We are only in May, imagine how much this happens in June, July, August, and September.

Please don’t assume that just because you walk by my restaurant and its sometimes busy that we don’t greatly need this revenue.

And please don’t assume that we want to be “heard in your living room all hours of the night.” We have asked for closing the outdoor seating at 8PM and were denied.

And lastly please stop saying we will be irresponsible with this. Pat O’Brien said, in front of the SLA Board, that we were excellent, responsible, operators of our liquor license. We have an excellent track record of nearly 3 years.

Reply
Doreen

That 3 part cocktail is missing one main ingredient which would be reasonable neighbors.

Neighbors that don’t install a camera to watch your every move hoping you fall.

Neighbors that are not sound technicians and record every conversation your customers and children are having.

Neighbors that do not dedicate their lives to making sure that when you trip he will be there to make sure you don’t get up.

There is something seriously wrong here when someone works 8 years to catch a business close its doors 15 minutes late and this City shuts them down.

Undercover inspectors from the SLA on 2 separate occations found no violations. Yet they get shut.

If LOUNGE 47 was even a teeny bit as bad as it’s reputation, why did it take so long to catch them trip, and how does the City allow a one time minor infraction to shut them down.

And, how does our Community Board allow him on OUR board?

Please, when you give a recipe kindly include all the ingredients.

Reply
Renee K.

The neighborhood can’t grow in a harmonious fashion when it is represented by an archaic and entitled Community Board that is NOT objective and refuses to listen to the majority. All that happens is that businesses show up to the meetings to plea their case and are shut down. The same handful of people win each time. That’s not compromise!

When Lounge 47 was open, the police were called 96 times and not a single violation was issued for noise!! On the flip side, you have the Garrett’s illegally recording patrons and ASSAULTING patrons with a water hose. (Yes, I took your advice and did my homework) That’s completely unacceptable, and if it were me, I would have pressed charges against anyone who attacks me with a hose.

I’m going to be investigating the cronyism that’s going on within the community board between members and local politicians. It seems like certain politicians who should have been at last night’s meeting are deep in the pockets of the Garrett family. The fact that he was appointed a member of the community board when he is clearly biased, is a conflict of its own. There is plenty of evidence and if any of you have or know someone who has more proof of cronyism, contact me via the facebook group, ‘Free the Yards’.

Reply
Anonymous

Thanks to all for the great turn-out at last night’s community board meeting. I truly believe this should be looked at as an opportunity for the neighborhood both new and old to get to know each other. Long Island City is a revitalized neighborhood with a storied and rich past. The community board and LIC residents have been working through the back yard controversy for at least eight years that I know of, and the process can be reviewed by anyone, by requesting the minutes of old meetings. Years and years of hearings, testimony and debate cannot be summed up in one angry blog post on either side of this issue.

Attached is a link that CLEARLY spells out the city’s checklist for applying for back yard restaurant use. There are many stipulations, not just getting Community Board approval. https://www1.nyc.gov/html/sbs/downloads/pdf/biz_express/rest_bar_backyard_use.pdf

HERE IS AN IMPORTANT ISSUE BEING OVERLOOKED: The fault is very much with landlords who do not disclose to potential tenants BEFORE they sign an expensive lease, that there is NO GUARANTEE of using a backyard. No restaurant owner should do sales and profit projections based on having a backyard. No restaurant owner should sign a lease that includes the square footage of the backyard, unless approval has been granted by the Buildings Department, Fire Department, SLA and the Community Board. Due diligence on the part of the business owner, full disclosure on the part of the landlords and a community board that is transparent and fair–this three part cocktail will help the neighborhood grow in a harmonious fashion. Let’s all keep the nastiness, name-calling and threats out of this important discussion, Please????

Reply
Anonymous#2

I am a local LIC resident & business owner. I fear the repercussions of providing my full identification. Some of these members have been on the board for over 20 years.. and let me guess ‘Not even a smidgen of corruption’
Im only stirring the Truth*

Reply
LIC Resident2

@Anonymous
Above you said “prove they can run a business that integrates well with the residential neighbors (like Woodbines) and can keep their customers from behaving like rabble, then let the licenses fly free”
Well some of these businesses have proven that for 3-4 years. Isn’t that long enough?
@penny luedtke
There is always a need for those in power to be transparent, and those with no power sometimes need to remain Anonymous, simply because they are powerless. Especially if they fear retaliation. I think this is only natural, as long as the person isn’t simply trolling but is honestly stating their own point of view, then its fair to remain secret. There are businesses here that do not trust the people in charge of CB2 and don’t trust that they wouldn’t seek revenge if they were public. I don’t think that is so hard to understand.

Reply
Renee K.

@LIC Resident2

Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease contact me on facebook! Your identity will never be revealed. I promise! Renee Korinna is the user name. Let me know if you have trouble finding me.

Reply
penny luedtke

Dear AnonyMOUSE 2,

You are accusing CB2 of not being transparent and honest.

Why aren’t you transparent and give your name?

Stop stirring the pot.

Reply
Anonymous#2

I Think there should be a complete investigation on all members of CB2. Lets really see how transparent and honest everyone really is. Petition Time?

Reply
Anonymous

I agree with the points Leslie Nilsson is making. I don’t think it should be the obligation of Vernon Boulevard residents to endure the noise and disruption to the quality of their lives just so a restaurateur can squeeze out more money from his or her business.

Use of a backyard space is not some god-given right, it’s a privilege, and certainly that’s the case along Vernon. And after reading some of these comments, I’d be loathe to support licenses to owners who have customers eager to stick up their middle fingers at their neighbors to make some kind of point while they continue their conquest of the neighborhood.

If owners made more of an effort to be good neighbors (like the 51st Bakery) and prove they can run a business that integrates well with the residential neighbors (like Woodbines) and can keep their customers from behaving like rabble, then let the licenses fly free. Until then, I expect a very cautious and stringent approach from the community board to licensing outdoor spaces in backs of buildings.

Reply
Renee K.

Leslie,

The point is there have been countless efforts by business owners to come to a compromise. They have offered to close the space earlier on weeknights so as not to disturb neighbors. I think that’s perfectly fair considering most restaurants/bars with outdoor space in other trendy areas (i.e. Astoria, Williamsburg, Greenpoint and various parts of Manahttan) keep their outdoor seating area open well past midnight. 11 pm isn’t too much to ask.

Some of the residents on that street act like they own the neighborhood. I’ve lived here longer than the Garretts and by no means do I think I have any authority to prevent a business from using space they PAY and obscene amount in rent for.

It’s very expensive to run a business and most restaurants don’t begin to see profit for a couple of years. It would be nice if they could increase their revenue by attracting more customers during the warmer months with outdoor seating.

unrelated: I think it’s extremely tacky for a person who holds a public seat in the community to lash out against people who oppose him. People will always disagree with you when you hold a high position. Can you imagine if President Obama accused everyone that posted exaggerations and slanderous comments on the internet of libel?? Or worse, accuse his critics of being too cowardly to reveal their identities when they’re within their rights to remain anonymous? He would never get any work done! And he’d embarrass himself. If you can’t take harsh criticism, get out of that seat. It’s about damn time you do anyway!

Reply
Leslie Nilsson

Let’s all take a deep breath, calm down and try to be neighborly and respectful of one another, please. This is a terrific, diverse community and everyone’s voice needs to heard.

I am a restaurant owner in LIC and I am also a resident whose apartment overlooks a back yard that could potentially be used as someone’s outdoor restaurant. I thoroughly believe that having folks outside my bedroom window drinking and talking in the evening would be an enormous disturbance to me and my family, just as it would be to any of you on this site, if the backyard restaurant were directly below your bedroom window.

There are still some charming, small apartment buildings in this growing neighborhood, and those of us who choose to live in them, who also cannot afford to live in luxury high rises, deserve to have the same quality of life as our newer neighbors who don’t have to worry about the noise, disturbance and YES, cigarette smoke, wafting up to our apartments.

As someone who has been active in this community for 16 years, who has had to present to the Community Board on several occasions, I think it extremely unfair to castigate and hurl insults at a Board that has been doing countless, unsung services for this community to make it the wonderful place to live that it was, is and will continue to be.
Leslie Nilsson, Sage General Store

Reply
Pat O'Brien

Dear Mr. Laurent,

I respect your forthrightness in identifying yourself and your residence in the area most affected by this issues (which LIC Resident2 has yet to do). However, you have entirely misinterpreted my post if you perceived it as any form of name-calling, grand-standing, or finger-wagging.

If you, or anyone else, thinks that an anonymous blogger should be free to suggest with impunity that I am a liar and a cheat, you are mistaken. With all due respect, you are also mistaken if you think I am not entitled to defend against such libelous and actionable remarks.

Please re-read my post. The message is that this a matter of importance that requires a serious and fair dialogue, not a baseless, insupportable character assignation by an uninformed individual who does not like prior results.

Tonight’s meeting hopefully will advance this discussion, and expose and discredit “rumor mills” on both sides of this issue that often serve as the “factual” basis that many rely on and/or use to manipulate in the service of their own narrow, individual personal agendas.

I would also like to correct you, at your request, about a Community Board’s role in the SLA licensing process. It is no authority to grant or deny any license of any kind; it’s role is advisory only. Only the SLA can issue or deny a liquor license. To be sure, it accepts a Community Board’s input, and affords it whatever weight it deems it to be worth, but it is not in any manner determinative.

As to CB2 specifically, we have never told anyone that they cannot ask for outdoor or rear yard use, and in fact have told applicants where we opposed back yard use that they were welocme to come back a t alter time to discuss rear yard use. Moreover, there are a number of establishments where we have not opposed it (for eg. , along Center Boulevard). The area in and around Vernon Boulevard is much different, however, and any position we have taken in the past has been based on community input and a consensus formed after many hearings in the community and long efforts to strike a fair balance.

We have always been transparent and informed applicants seeking rear yard uses of premises along Vernon Boulevard, or in mid-block, of the special concerns such uses create. To date, no such applicant has provided reliable evidence by petition or otherwise that the residents living above and within a reasonable radius of such premises are in favor of, and do not oppose, such use.

Every applicant if free to accept, or reject, the compromises we propose. The choice to do so is theirs, and the reasons that they accept, or reject, them are also theirs. Notwithstanding any attempt to spin it otherwise, this is the simple fact.

The recent expression of many people in Ms, K’s petition and elsewhere indicates it may be time to re-examine that policy, and we have begun to do so. However, re-examination does not assure change where the quiet enjoyment of the homes of a significant number of residents would be affected on a 24/7 basis.

Think what you will, but the Community Board does pay attention and listen, and we care very much about a fair and balanced outcome.

See you tonight.

Sincerely,

Pat O’Brien
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Reply
LIC Resident2

Pat O’ Brien- Did it occur to you that maybe I’m one of the people that have felt bullied by you? Maybe I’m afraid of you using your power to harm me and my business if I did identify myself? I am grateful to Sonny and Renee because you have no power over them and they can feel free to speak up.
I have witnessed you at meetings creating a bias against outdoor seating. You begin the meeting, before the business owner can speak, reminding everyone City Services And Public Safety Committee how supposedly everyone is against it, and you would like to remind everyone of that fact before you let the person speak.
You told the SLA that there are apartments above Alobar. I go to Alobar multiple times a week and know the owner and I know there are no apartments above, because the dining room is an addition to the building. Have you ever been there to look around? Or did you just make that up? I am friends with the owners of Alobar, and it seems to me you lied about the situation there as if you have been there.
I have read emails from Garrett to you and others on the board. I won’t tell you how I got them. It sure seems to me like he is pulling strings. It is my experience that in life people that are AGAINST something speak louder than people that are FOR something. That is what has happened so far, but Renee and Sonny are trying to do something about it.
This neighborhood is growing rapidly and needs real leadership if it is going to go smoothly. Do you really think your mob tactics are leadership? I noticed you didn’t comment on my call for term limits on CB2. Most community boards in Manhattan have term limits but not ours. Why?

Reply
Renee K.

They had to “promise not to ask for outdoor space in return for a liquor license?” Ridiculous!

Let me rephrase that:

“If you don’t do X, we will give you Y.”

“Do you want Y, well then, you can’t have X.”

“Keep in mind, we have no authority to grant you X, we can just offer our opinion on whether you should have X, but we just don’t want you to have Y”

“You cannot have Y, you will never have Y, and if you ask again, we will take away X.”

Do you see where I’m going with this? This Community Board seems to think they’re the mob. Really all you’re doing is bullying. Bullying has no place in LIC or anywhere!

You are not asking these businesses to compromise, you’re threatening them, (maybe bribing them), and holding their livelihood over their heads. Shame on you CB2!

Reply
Sonny L.

As evidenced by the above video, the community board 2 has no interest if furthering the communal harmony and commercial growth that is so desired by the residents of Long Island City. It is further evidenced that the restaurants suffering from the banishment of outdoor use are strictly prohibited on Vernon Boulevard, currently between 47th Road and 47th Avenue. Now, other businesses fear their spaces are also endangered.

AE they had to PROMISE not to ask for outdoor space in return for a liquor license, correct me if I am wrong?

Please note that the above speaks VOLUMES and is a factual reflection of the discriminatory nature these establishments are experiencing.

Name-calling resolves nothing, Mr. O’Brien and with all due respect, I would expect more than grandstanding and finger wagging from a city council member. It is obvious you feel superior to the rest of us due to your position, but remember to listen to your constituents and have a little more humility.

It is a shame that you are not paying attention. This petition would not have happened should you be listening to all.

My name is Sonny Laurent and I live at 47-09 Vernon Blvd.

Sincerely,
Sonny

Reply
Anonymous

There’s also plenty of finger wagging coming from the other side of the argument, Sonny L.

This situation just reminds me again how much bitterness we have in LIC among the people who live here. And with good reason. When you have one side that insists on placing bars and restaurants in backyards under people’s bedrooms regardless of the impacts that causes to residents’ quality of life going up against those that resist any reasonable efforts to have some outdoor dining with sensible limits, where is the middle ground?

Can’t you people just all get together and work something out? I’m really getting so sick of these constant battles in this neighborhood. There’s no trust. Really, no community either the way I remember it. Just a bunch of people gritting their teeth and making no effort to disguise their pettiness.

Reply
Renee K.

Mr. O’Brien,

Thank you for your passionate response. I’m happy to hear that you’re willing to re-visit the issue regarding local restaurants. However, I do agree that having term limits for a community board is a reasonable idea and one that is being considered and implemented in other community boards around NYC. (see attached link) 24 years is too long to hold a seat that represents a changing community especially when the decisions you’ve made don’t reflect the interests of the MAJORITY of the community, but a select few. If we need to prove to the city council, the mayor’s office, the State Liquor Authority, or the media, what the majority feels, then so be it.

http://www.brooklyneagle.com/articles/council-eyes-term-limits-community-board-members-2014-04-14-200000

See you at tonight’s meeting.

Best Regards,

Renee

http://www.brooklyneagle.com/articles/council-eyes-term-limits-community-board-members-2014-04-14-200000

Reply
Sonny L.

Wagging your finger, Mr. O”Brien, also does nothing to advance this discussion, while you offer no basis for progress. The “rumor” mill is saying you are the cause of these hurdles. I am so thrilled you are willing to revisit.

Regards,

Reply
Lic fan

I signed the petition and was hoping to attend the meeting tonight but something has come up, good luck to all who attend. Is there a way to keep this effort going? Maybe email those who signed the petition about future meetings? I suspect this will take some time and it will be important to hang in there – together. Thanks,

Reply
Pat O'Brien

Dear LIC Resident2:

My name is Pat O’Brien, and I am very happy to identify myself by name to you and everyone else on this blog.

Unfortunately, I do not know your name as you have chosen to shroud yourself in a pseudonym, presumably to engage in a consequence-free, offensive rant. Well, cowardly anonymity may provide you with that freedom, but I think you would better evidence the courage of your convictions, if you have any, and dispel any notion that you are not just a disingenuous bloviator without the slightest knowledge of any of the facts you are basing your libelous accusations on, if you just step out of the shadows.

I also think that your idiocy only does a disservice to the many serious, reasonable and fair-minded people that are in favor of rear yard uses in Hunters Point.

You are entitled to your own opinions, and your own form of expression, but you are not entitled to your own facts, and you are most certainly not entitled to make baseless accusations about me or anyone else.

I do not presume to speak for Mr. Garrett, but I can say that we are two very different and independent people, and we do not always see eye-to-eye. In any event, I think he and any reasonable person on either side of this issue would agree with me that your comments are offensive, abhorrent, and have no place in what should be a civil, constructive dialogue about an issue that is important to two groups of people who do not agree.

I encourage you, and all other people interested in this issue, to attend tomorrow night’s Board meeting, and be heard. (Please make it a point to introduce yourself to me personally to me as I would like find out, and correct for you, whatever rumored, fabricated, or purposefully untrue tales could have led you to such a personal assault.)

For your information, at the Board’s last meeting of the City Services And Public Safety Committee, I proposed that we re-visit and re-examine rear yard uses in Hunters Point, and formulate a set of guidelines. This has begun, and hopefully what we hear at tomorrow night’s meeting will assist us in that effort.

It is very easy for some to presume, judge, and comment without full knowledge of facts and events, but it is seldom useful or constructive. Change isn’t easy and, if you want to be part of a process leading to it, I suggest you grow up, calm down, and make yourself a part of the solution, rather than a cowardly commentator from the dark.

Sincerely,

Pat O’Brien.

Reply
Sonny L.

In other words, i would not start running around waving all sorts of flags, though this exchange has likely tipped all of them off. Nolan is a big issue.

Yes attorneys have been contacted. Let’s see how the meeting plays out tomorrow.

Reply
Sonny L.

Also, getting the restaurant association involved to represent those restaurants with back yards for a consolidated representation would be a big, organized benefit. this is only ONE aspect.

Reply
Sonny L.

it is unethical to deny a liquor license because someone wants to have backyard use.

You will mostly find Tommy Blaze at his new place working.

I would wait until the 1000 signatures have been obtained, lest they start getting creative.

best of luck

Reply
Renee K.

Does anyone know how to get in touch with Tom Blaze? I can’t find him on facebook.

FYI, This petition will be sent to community board 2, Jimmy Van Bramer, Melinda Katz (she appoints the community board members), & Cathy Nolan. However, I will also be sending it to the State Liquor Authority to show that the majority of people in LIC want the businesses in this neighborhood to have use of their outdoor space and want to see bars/restaurants comparable to other popular neighborhoods. I want the SLA to know that rejecting a request for a liquor license hinders the development of LIC and is bad for the real estate market as well.

Another question: Does anyone know if it’s illegal or at least unethical for a Community Board to demand that a business forgo it’s right to use a third of the space that it pays for in order to obtain their recommendation for a liquor license? I know that the State Liquor Authority must listen to the concerns of the Community Board before granting a license, but if those concerns are unfounded (which they often are), they can ignore the Community Board and grant the liquor license, correct?

Reply
LIC Resident2

William Garret and Pat O’Brien don’t truly care about the local businesses, or LIC for that matter. They have their axe to grind and it doesn’t matter who it hurts. And they don’t care if they have to lie or cheat to get it done. They are high on power and there are no term limits for CB2, a body that is not elected. There is no listening to reason with them. Pat O’Brien is supposed to be impartial when running meetings but he is not in the least.

Reply
Renee K.

I don’t know if it’s on the agenda, but several local residents are coming to voice their support for local businesses and express discontent for a community board with no term limits.

Reply
Celtic Bark

Let them have their yard. If there are too many legitimate complaints, then do something about it.

This sounds more like hobbling the competition of other area bar owners. Owners with more influence with the board.

Reply
LIC Res

Perhaps an Eat-In is called for, where supporters bring dinner and eat it during the CB2 meeting.

Reply
Amadeo

It’ll be key for people to actually show up at the community board meetings. I applaud this move wholeheartedly, but even 1,300 signatures (reportedly) didn’t get Tom Blaze the use of his backyard space for L’inizio. So, if we really want to see change, we’re going to have to show up to the meetings. And in large numbers. It may be a little difficult to organize and mobilize people via blog comments, however. I’m motioning to create a Facebook Group to help manage this.

Renee, you’re up first to receive an invitation.

Reply
Gillmoli

Fantastic! Way to go, Renee! Now let’s get as many people as possible at the next meeting so they can really see and hear who we are as the community of LIC.

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