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Residents weigh in on whether Vernon Blvd restaurants should be permitted to use backyard space, at CB2 meeting

L'Renzio's shut down backyard

Shut down restaurant space on Vernon Blvd

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.”

Joe Conley, chairman of Community Board 2

Joe Conley, chairman of Community Board 2

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.”

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42 Comments

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LittleBearNYC

I was in a local LIC restaurant a few tables from Mr. Blaze (future proprietors of Inzio, the new pizzeria) and his staff and was horrified by the loud boorish behavior coming from their table. And yes, when three tables told them to keep it down they got very belligerent and started mocking the other restaurant patrons. The restaurants owners kept apologizing to us- the only good thing was half our meal was free due to the bad behavior of the Inzio owner and staff.
SO- if they are that loud and obnoxious (one kept yelling “NO F&*KIN’ RESPECT” after being told to lower the volume) at others’ restaurants can you imagine their noise policy if they are allowed to use their backyard???
If I lived adjacent to their new place I’d say “NO F*&KIN’ WAY!”

I’d like to hear the opinions of some who actually face the backyards and will be affected by the echoing noise.

Reply
Gillmoli

Well said, Taxpayer. I think those of us in favor of changing these ridiculous rulse are in full support of a new community board. I know I am.

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Taxpayer

A broader issue to this debate is- what kind of Community Board will we have in Long Island City? One that reflects the views of a majority of residents that want our restaurants to have the same rights and amenities as in every other place in New York City? Or one that will partake in cronyism and cater to the small number of bullies who want to deprive the rest of the neighborhood and hurt our businesses because they chose to live on a commercial street but don’t want to deal with seeing any commercial activities in backyards?

If this Community Board fails to reflect the views and makeup of the majority of the residents in the area, I think it is time to press the case with the Queens Borough President and others to re-make the Community Board.

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Sonny L.

Perseverance, kindness, and consideration will get us all to a creative and mutually beneficial solution. We will, all of us as neighbors, find a creative solution to reflect the rapidly changing demographic and come to a neighborly understanding where everyone can be happy and without prejudice.

Reply
Townie

I’m not religious but here’s where I pray for Thunderbolts. Better yet, and just as likely, I pray my ship comes in so I can go someplace else, and maybe run across a different variety of jerk. All this crap is good preparation for it.

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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.

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Anonymous

Resident #5, People on Vernon are just asking for their backyards to be used the way city zoning laws intended. That’s the law. It is the restaurants who are pushing a use that is inconsistent with those properties. So don’t make them out to be the bogeyman.

And it would be great if you and others would please stop creating these strawman arguments, trying to portray these residents as being insanely unreasonable because they want to use their property the way they should be used.

“Peace” and “quiet” is relative. No one on Vernon expects to hear crickets chirping or babbling brooks outside in their backyards. But they are definitely not going to be OK with nighttime noise and commotion in the backyards either. Why should they? Even people in commercial parts of the city have rights to those spaces and don’t have to surrender them just because a bunch of arrogant people decide they don’t deserve it.

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Resident#5

One thing pops into my head over and over…if you wished for peace and quiet, why would you live on a commercial block? There are PLENTY of quiet, thriving, beautiful neighborhoods for you to have chosen.

As far as who has more right to an opinion, that gets hard, I am sensitive to the needs of the immediate residents but I am also sensitive to the needs of business owners. I think every possibility for a business to make more money (respectfully of the community), should be explored especially when rent is skyrocketing over here!

Just my opinion.

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Sonny L.

I don’t have to live above a backyard to be discounted as a direct neighbor. I live across from Woodbines and all the restaurants there have people outside ~ they are not as loud as the trucks. I should have just as much a right as if not more to complain about so-called noise. The point is, these “direct neighbors” are being simply unreasonable.

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Sonny L.

One does not have to live in Hunters Point to eat there. Just like Brooklyn or Manhattan or Astoria. Everyone who frequents these places has just as much of a say. Also, the restaurants are losing money while rents in the neighborhood continue to skyrocket exponentially. Be realistic, be human, be fair.

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Sonny L.

Ro makes a fantastic point. AGAIN, Vernon Blvd. is a truck route and we also allow filming which brings some revenues to our financially disproportionately neighborhood.

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Sonny L.

Au contraire LittleBearNYC. That is not true and again, why not be open in the nice months for at least lunch and brunch? that is not a lot to ask. this has become lunacy.

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LittleBearNYC

I don’t live in an apartment effected by backyard noise but applaud those who are trying to limit backyard dining. They have an absolute right to a quiet night and they are already living here – the businesses are new.

Reply
What's your rub Sonny

Businesses should be good neighbors. Don’t like it, move to where backyard use is welcome. No ones forcing you to stay if your not happy.

Reply
This Is Me Being Sarcastic

My Stars! You had to close your window? Oh, the humanity. How hard that must have been for you.

Reply
ddd

I used to live adjacent to the back yard of what was Mario’s deli. During all hours, you get ambient traffic noise. The few instances there were engagements in the back yard, the noise would force me to close my windows. This was during the middle of the day.

When has a party of more than 3 been quiet? Quiet enjoyment is a right for residents and not restaurant goers.

Do you enjoy being directly affected by noise pollution. I don’t, that’s why I moved.

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Sonny L.

ddd, LIC is NOT more quiet on Vernon. Do you live in a tower or side street? the issue is noise with these neighbors? or are they just creating havoc for no reason at all?

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Sonny L.

The question is not to party all night as some of you try to make this a bigger argument than necessary. The answer is to allow the businesses and the patrons to (at the very least) have the use and quiet enjoyment of the open space. That is to say, let them have lunch and brunch – at the very LEAST. That is not an unreasonable request. I am a neighbor who is directly affected by everything on Vernon. Are you willing to move the truck route to make it quieter? Nonsense. Some of you are being ridiculous.

Reply
OAR

So how many of those 500 online signatures actually live in LIC/Hunterspoint ? How many of them live in the immediate Vernon Blvd vincinity or down on the waterfront in the highrises and are removed from the noise? You can always move to a more “hip” neighborhood like Williamsburg etc. Just because you live in NYC doesn’t mean residents have to give up on having some quiet in the evenings. As for Ms. Katsaitis having to “dig” to find the meeting, all she had to do was google Community Board 2, Queens and she would have found their website with the calendar of meetings. It’s not rocket science. I hope she signed up to get their emails since they send out emails with the agenda for each meeting. I get it every month. Plus, if you take the time to read the local papers there is a lot of information in there too.

Reply
Fuzz

“We either adapt with the changes or we fall behind.”

Fall behind what? Is this like some kind of restaurant arms race?

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ddd

Johnny, I go to Williamsburg to have fun. Return to LIC because it’s more quiet. No need to visit other states.

Reply
2727

How can it be a blanket statement? When in fact some bars get access to the backyards all the time, for drinking and smoking at least two, these two might be spots that a certain someone likes, so there is a certain bias.

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Sonny L.

Charles, I believe you are talking about two different issues. Woodbine’s wishes to construct something for to enclose the back yard. It is too bad they do not join the fight because I would be hard-pressed to find anyone to get them a construction permit for what they say they want to do.

The second thing to which it seems you are referring is the new pizza spot across the street. Either way, where is your solution? And no, Tom Blaze is not a poster boy for open space use.

Respectfully,
Sonny

Reply
Charles

The photo and caption for this post are interesting. “Shut down restaurant space”.

Wouldn’t a restaurant have to technically be “open” before being “shut down”?

Wouldn’t, perhaps, it make sense to obtain the proper permits to open a backyard space before moving ahead with construction?

Wouldn’t neighbors be rightly suspicious of the ability of a business owner so completely oblivious to basic law and finance they might question his ability to gauge noise and smoke issues in the future? His inability to show up to argue his case at the CB meeting? His imaginary 1,300 name petition?

If this is the poster boy for the “Open Space LIC” , you’re in trouble.

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Sonny L.

As a direct neighbor, I wish to reiterate that creative compromise is the most reasonable solution to everyone’s strife.

Vernon Blvd. is a truck route with buses, film crews, trucks, fire trucks at all hours of the night. Folks hang out on the sidewalks outside until all hours smoking and talking. Having the quiet ease of use open space in the day time until a reasonable hour is not asking for anything – not in the least. These “most affected neighbors” are playing shameful, petty, passive aggressive games. I am more affected than they are.

At the CB2 meeting this past Thursday, I was thrilled to meet Pat O’Brien and also to hear that since there is so much controversy surrounding the quiet ease of use and enjoyment of the spaces, that this topic will be revisited.

All emotions aside, this IS a neighborhood. Why don’t we all act like good neighbors should and shake hands?

Thanks,
Sonny
47-09 Vernon Blvd.

Reply
John

This is an absurd argument. This is NYC, people! If you want to hear crickets, move away! I totally support opening the yards and terraces for dining. Let’s evolve. It would bring a lot of $$$ to the area. You have my full support against the uptight, fear-based negative folks out there.

Reply
Anonymous

Ro – look at that, that wasnt hard was it???? compromise!

I dont get these people who are 100 % against use of backyards. are you saying that if your neighbor had a backyard bbq with family over – and was making noise all afternoon – that you would call and complain that your couldnt take your mid day nap???

why is that any different than an establishment using their bakcyard for brunch from 12-3? or dinner from 6-10??

that seems reasonsable – throw in no smoking and we should be well on our way to something.

Reply
Ro

What needs to happen is a compromise on a set of guidelines that will allow the use of the backyard with the goal to minimize the impact on the immediate residents. However, people should expect some level of noise at reasonable hours since they do live in a commercially zoned area.

Guidelines should be :
-Limited hours
-Sound attenuation design
-No smoking
-Music volume to an agreed decibel level

I’m sure I am missing a few other solutions but it shouldn’t be all or nothing for either side.

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Johnny

Hey “ddd”, why do you live in NYC then? There are plenty of other states where you don’t need to deal with this issue. C’mon move please!

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ddd

People are noisy and will annoy other people. You don’t need a backyard to prove that.

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Anonymous

I tell you — the people fighting against using backyards sure know how to write a great story.
“Shoving tables in a backyard under windows disturbing sleep … ” holy crap that’s great. Take it easy man… Talk about going to extremes…
I’m sure what most of these establishments want is the right to use backyards during certain hours .. Not every hour of every day.
That’s why this is so difficult – people trying to have a serious discussion inevitably get met by someone like the writer above… Talking in extremes and superlatives to prove a point.
Compromise is a great thing.

Reply
Resident

You buy or rent a place with retail and outdoor space below you, no matter how long ago, and it’s only fair to assume that it could become a restaurant one day. Living there before the restaurant is not an excuse … You live in a location that is zoned for commercial and has available commercial space below you. The retail space owner, and renter, have the right to operate a business and you should have though of that when you moved in ….that’s my 2 cents.

Reply
r185

When each of us moved to LIC we likely had to make tradeoffs due to costs. Do you live near the el; on a heavily trafficked street; next to a factory; across from the LIRR…..? Or, next to a restaurant? Most of those choices cannot be mitigated. But there is room for compromise with a backyard – reasonable hours. Opponents to the backyards need to realize that they live in NYC, not Omaha.

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Anonymous

Sorry, commonsense dictates that someone’s right to eat and carouse at night in a backyard surrounded by people’s apartments is never going to be equal to residents’ right to expect a decent quality of life in their own homes and neighborhood. I hope that CB 2 doesn’t buckle under pressure by the shrill groups trying to upset the balance we have now in LIC.

The argument being made by petition sponsors that somehow these restaurants are hanging by a thread because they can’t shove more tables under a neighbor’s bedroom window and ruin their sleep is beyond incredulous, and you ain’t gaining my sympathy either by making it. (Note: I live nowhere close to Vernon.)

Not every single neighborhood in New York should evolve into an all-night carnival. If you wanted a W’burg vibe, then no one put a gun to your head to force you to live in LIC. Maybe you’d be much happier there.

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BW

I think that folks who will be impacted the most ( the direct neighbors) should get to speak the loudest. Those who don’t live in direct proximity don’t have the same rights to protect. What if the tables were turned??

Reply
Renee K

Hey LIC Post, here are some interesting facts you should look into! Perhaps this is where the real problems lies:

Community Board members are appointed by the Borough President, so while NYS Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan didn’t technically appoint 3 of her former aides to the board, what influence did she have in their nominations and/or appointment? Or is it just a coincidence that 3 of her aides are making decisions that affect Long Island City businesses?

Diane Ballek: According to her LinkedIn page, she currently holds the title of Director at the NYS Assembly and has served as an assistant to Catherine Nolan. She is also a member of CB2 Queens on the following committees: Public Safety, Executive Budget & City Services. What’s more interesting is that the city services committee oversees liquor license applications from restaurants and bars within the community. Community Boards are only supposed to serve an advisory purpose to the NYS Liquor Authority. The NYSLA does NOT have to reject an application based solely on the opinions of the Community Board.

CB2 members Donald McCallian & Santiago Vargas also served as aides to Catherine Nolan.

Catherine Nolan has long held a biased position regarding restaurants/bars on Vernon Boulevard that want to use the outdoor space they pay for. She refuses to allow Vernon Boulevard restaurants to EVER use their backyard spaces, no matter how many compromises the restaurants are willing to make to appease the surrounding neighbors. And there have been many compromises, such as: shutting the outdoor space at 10 or 11 pm on weekdays, not allowing smoking in the yard, and not playing music in the yard. A new pizzeria set to open called “L’inizio” is no different. According to her representative, Nolan is concerned that “the approval of this application would break the precedent and could lead to many other establishments along Vernon Boulevard to reapply and change their status”. What’s worse, the Community Board’s chairmen and quite a few of the board members share her unreasonable position.

Does this sound like the majority of the people in LIC are really being represented by our elected leaders and Community Board?

Reply
John

These folks want community board meetings to be advertised better? They’re held at the same place on the same day at the same time every month. Meeting info is published in local papers and on CB2’s website. Do they expect a personal invite mailed to their house? If you truly have an interest in your community and are not just interested in self-serving issues like eating in a backyard, you’d know when your community board meets and what’s on the agenda, wouldn’t you?

I also like this genius comment: “It happened to Williamsburg, Greenpoint and now it is happening to LIC and Astoria. We either adapt with the changes or we fall behind.”

And we should learn from their mistakes, not make the same ones.

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