May 3, 2014 By Christian Murray
Several Long Island City residents squared off at Community Board 2’s monthly meeting Thursday as they debated whether Vernon Blvd. bars/restaurants should be permitted to use their rear yards.
Two, well-organized camps put forward their differing views—and the controversial issue was far from settled.
Several speakers, many of whom live adjacent to Vernon Blvd establishments, spoke out against rear yards and supported the current policy that has led to most of them being closed. They claimed that neighboring residents could hear every little restaurant noise–such as a fork being dropped–since the rear yards were like echo chambers.
Furthermore, those opposed to rear yards said that they were entitled to raise their families in relative peace and quiet—and that the bars/restaurants were not suffering as a result of the board’s long-time policy of requiring businesses to shut their yards.
However, a number of speakers, a little younger in age, asked for these residents to be more tolerant of noise, arguing that it was hurting small businesses as wells as the vitality of the neighborhood. They claimed that Long Island City is no longer the sleepy neighborhood of yesteryear but one that is evolving into a hotspot such as Williamsburg.
Furthermore, supporters of the use of backyard space complained that the public hearings/meetings were poorly advertised, which put the general public at a disadvantage when it came to putting forward their input.
The long-fought issue reignited last week after Renee Katsaitis formed a petition calling for restaurants to be given the right to use their back yard space. She claimed that the community board had made some unfair decisions recently when it would not grant businesses the right to use their yards—even on a limited basis. In the past week, she generated more than 500 online signatures arguing that the minority of residents in Long Island City were setting policy for the majority.
However, the petition also led to plenty of comments on the blogosphere, with some tough comments directed toward board members.
Pat O’Brien, who is chair of the City Services committee that oversees Liquor licenses, recognized the renewed interest in the controversial topic. He said that his committee continues to listen to all sides of the debate and is in the process of revisiting the topic and coming up with guidelines. He said that there was not one blanket policy and noted that reasonable people can disagree on the issue.
However, Joe Conley, chairman of CB2, said that the board tends to listen more attently to those people most affected—namely adjacent homeowners.
Anna Finn, who lives on 46th Road, spoke at the meeting about the noise from Alobar, which she said is located just 25 feet from her living room. “I don’t want businesses to fail … but I don’t want to hear the constant clanging of dishes.”
She said the community board should continue to place much greater weight on the opinion of the residents who live next to the bars/restaurants. “A lot of people signing the petition don’t live directly in the area,” she said.
Furthermore, David Haase, another Alobar neighbor, told the board that he thought the issue with backyards had been resolved—until he discovered the petition.
In the past, Haase has said, the opening of rear yards would “ruin our peaceful courtyards.” On Thursday, he told the board that they had already compromised with Alobar by permitting it to open its back doors until 8 pm.
Meanwhile, Louis Dilulio, a Vernon Blvd resident, said: “It is unfair that restaurants… are requesting that our audible privacy be invaded.”
However, there were an equal number of dissenters at the meeting who commented.
“We have heard a lot about quietness and family but Long Island City is changing whether we like it or not,” said Mark Barry, a Long Island City resident. “It happened to Williamsburg, Greenpoint and now it is happening to LIC and Astoria. We either adapt with the changes or we fall behind.”
Katsaitis, 31, said that the Vernon Blvd residents need to compromise and allow restaurants to have some outdoor hours. “Being part of this community means you should compromise and share the space,” she said.
Furthermore, Katsaitis said, “Everyone in the community deserves the right to be heard including the people above Vernon.”
She read out the names of several people who had signed her petition, including many of their comments.
One comment she quoted was from Barbara Etzel, a LIC resident: “It’s time for the (previously) silent majority to be heard. Let’s have responsible dining options available in LIC.”
Conley, following Katsaitis’ comments, came forward and told her that there was outdoor dining space on Vernon Blvd, and referred to sidewalk cafes. He named Bella Via, Masso and Tournensol as examples.
He told her the board regularly holds public hearings on the issue and that the process is very transparent.
Katsaitis, however, replied. “I have never seen a hearing advertised, and I had to dig to find about this meeting. “But I will be attending these meetings from now on.”