Sept. 18, 2014 By Christian Murray
Despite the weather cooling down, the advocates for rear yard dining along Vernon Boulevard are continuing to put the heat on Community Board 2.
Renee Katsaitis, who is spearheading the movement, called on the board earlier this month to produce guidelines so bars/restaurants on Vernon Blvd know where they stand when they apply for rear yard space.
In its quest for guidelines, Patrick O’Brien, the head of Community Board 2’s public safety committee, invited Ken Lazar, a representative from the Department of Buildings, to last Wednesday’s meeting to discuss what restaurant owners must do in order to use their backyard space.
Lazar said that in most cases a restaurant/bar must obtain a certificate of occupancy that expressly states “rear yard use.”
The process to get a certificate of occupancy for rear yard use is considered expensive and time consuming.
“This involves hiring an architect or an engineer to do a zoning analysis,” Lazar said. The applicant must provide proof that the establishment meets fire safety standards, has proper egress and complies with zoning, he said.
Restaurant owners, however, who operate out of a building that was constructed before 1938 do not need a certificate of occupancy if the backyard space was used by a bar/restaurant back then.
“These are the rules,” Lazar said. “I’ve read a lot of the press and blogs bashing your community board,” he said. “To be blunt your community board has nothing to do with it.” He said the restaurant owners just have to comply with the rules or advocate changing them.
The outspoken owners of Alobar and L’inizio, who both seek backyard use, said in separate interviews that they do not have a certificate of occupancy expressly stating rear yard use.
However, they said that the costs are onerous and it is too risky to spend all that money to get one if the board is going to say no.
“The board is using this certificate of occupancy issue as a distraction—a red herring,” said Jeff Blath, the owner of Alobar.
Blath said that the certificate of occupancy should not be all that relevant to the community board’s decision. After all, there is no reason, he said, why the board can’t approve a restaurant’s application for rear yard use and make it subject to obtaining a certificate of occupancy.
Argilio Rodriguez, an attorney who represents restaurants seeking liquor licenses, said that the State Liquor Authority requires bars/restaurants to have a certificate of occupancy before they can open their rear yards in any case. Therefore, he said, this is not an issue that the community board needs to dig into too deeply.
There is no reason, he added, why the community board can’t approve an application and make it “subject to getting DOB’s approval” like it often does with hours of operation.
He said it is unreasonable to expect businesses to spend thousands of dollars without any assurances.
“It’s a catch 22,” said Tom Blaze, the owner of L’inizio. “If we spend thousands of dollars to seek a certificate of occupancy—and they say no we are out a lot of money.”
Whoever thinks there are no Certificates of Occupancy in Sunnyside or Astoria, pick any restaurant or bar address and go here: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dob/html/codes_and_reference_materials/statistics.shtml
If a building has had any improvement – usually needed for a restaurant – it has a Certificate of Occupancy.
The wonderful thing about blogs is how anything thrown at the wall becomes reality.
Everyone’s keeps bringing up Sunnyside and the fact that they don’t have certificates of occupancy. Yeah I’m sure they don’t and Astoria restaurants as well but what they also don’t seem to have is a bunch of tight asses that are hell bent against dining al fresco!
“C5 is a central commercial district with continuous retail frontage intended for offices and retail establishments that serve the entire metropolitan region. Famous shopping streets, such as Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue and East 57th Street are C5 districts. Parts of Lower Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn and Long Island City are also within C5 districts.”
That’s some famous company we are in.
Ok, someone please propose a term limits system that would allow the Board to function without damaging the little bit of power and influence it actually has. The Board meets once a month. Committees meet once a month. There are 10 active months. There are I think one or two paid staff. How do you maintain valuable past knowledge, an understanding or relationship with City agencies, or even where to begin if you wipe that out every two years? The Board does more than make recommendations for liquor licenses. That is a tiny faction of its ongoing business.
I personally wish there were a way to weed out those who just show up versus those who are active whatever their views might be.
We probably already are ; )
Backyards ftw, can we be friends? 🙂
So can you explain why none of the other bars in the CB2 vicinity have C of O’s???? I just went on the DOB website. No C of O for bars with backyards in Sunnyside. No C of O for Dominie’s Hoek or Creek and Cave. LIC Bar is the only one with a Co of O.
Know what the hell you’re talking about before you comment. I would hate to see you come off as naive.
As this Lazar guy states, there IS a process for how restaurants and bars can get approval for using their outdoor spaces. That’s really all there is to it.
You can rant and shout, search for conspiracies, scream about the unfairness of it all, harangue your perceived opponents and ascribe the worst motivations to them, and really get yourself up in a lather — and none of this will matter.
This is New York effing City, a sleazy, sprawling, ugly, immobile beast. Always was, always will be. Go ahead and apply your idealized assumptions about How Things Should Be. Fact is that people in the city bureaucracy are just not going to jump through hoops to quickly realize your dream of planting a few more outdoor tables in a back yard of some Vernon Boulevard boite.
That’s not how the process is set up and isn’t how it works anywhere else in NYC. Do your homework, hire a lawyer and deal with the reality.
The community board refuses to compromise with the business owners. The restaurants now have to fight this in court with lawyers.
Don’t worry Was There Too, (clearly you were not there too), we don’t take much stock in what you say either. You have no clue about the origins of this story or the crotchety weasel behind it.
Sway politicians? Try, hosting fundraisers for those politicians in his home. Sway the community board? He sits on the damn community board thanks to Cathy Nolan’s recommendation and observes committee meetings which he has not been assigned to so that he can stay on top of those who vote on liquor licenses.
He’s definitely not swaying the police. The cops can’t stand his constant bitching and would rather ignore his complaints. The only reason he has any pull is because one of Cathy Nolan’s former aides, Diane Ballek, serves as the 108th precinct community council. Sway the media? Not unless they operate a NIMBY whinery, (i.e. queenscrap.blogspot.com)
Talk about a smokescreen.
I’ve lived here in LIC 32 yrs, (since birth), and I don’t feel at all entitled to tell business owners how to operate their property. I don’t own the neighborhood. People on this community board seem to think they do.
We need term limits on that dictator board ASAP.
It may not be One person, but a nice little group of 4-5 who tend to carry all the bias and sway in the community (and happen to be very well plugged in with those in positions of authority – ahem #termlimits).
Whether there is just one person pulling those strings, who knows, but the last CB meeting i attended (last before the summer), was an overwhelming display of currying favor and shutting down those speaking on alternate points of view.
also, a lot of people struggling to accept that the storage facility for the fire trucks would not also be a repair shop. lol.
The meetings are exasperating enough (see above) without being outshouted, talked down to and ultimately dismissed because our POVs are differing from the little group’s. Show me a butcher that can afford the Vernon commercial storefront rents, and maybe I’ll take some of these people seriously.
Dear ‘attending meetings’ It you really believe one person has THAT much power to go beyond the system to sway politicians, the Community Board, neighbors, the police, the media, and the SLA than I can’t take much stock in what you say. It’s a smokescreen for those who refuse to accept that this is about diverse opinions, mutual respect, and ultimately compromise.
“Among the ludicrous claims I read here is that one person controls the local politicians and Board. Do you see how ridiculous that is?”
Ridiculous, yes. True, sadly.
‘Oh Shut Up’, your tag is perfect. It shows how open minded you are. Stirring the pot means pushing baseless or uninformed accusations and offering one sided opinions as fact. Quoting Blath, Free The Yards, and an attorney who makes his money pursuing liquor licenses as your basis for truth is like getting all of your information on climate control from Fox. Among the ludicrous claims I read here is that one person controls the local politicians and Board. Do you see how ridiculous that is?
The idea that I have any issue with anyone who “dares” to write about the issue is a bizarre fantasy on your part. I applaud those on all sides (there are more than two sides) who have had the courage and taken the time to express their views openly at public meetings.
Seems like a step in the right direction.
Was there too, you think anyone who dares to write about the issue is stirring the pot. Get over it.
The issue is not about whether off Vernon restaurants have the C of O. The issue is that they were not met with the same red tape that restaurants on Vernon are. The board can give their approval to the SLA contingent on the C of O. Why should a business owner risk going broke paying for the certificate of occupancy on top of a 50k a year liquor license and all their other expenses if the answer from CB2 could still be no? I wouldn’t take that risk.
I’m gonna survey bars with yards in Sunnyside, also CB2, to see if they went through this BS. I will also ask Dominies and LIC bar.
The restaurants have tried compromise. On numerous occasions. It’s CB2 that isn’t willing to compromise. Free the Yards has made very reasonable suggestions as well. That went no where.
1. You don’t need a lawyer to look up your C of O. Go to the DOB website or the DOB itself. It’s not that technical – certainly not as hard as running a restaurant. The rules are pretty clear and in fact searchable online. The process is only difficult if you are trying to do something that code or zoning disallows.
2. As for the supposed cronyism of cb2. You are apparently unaware of how much this Board does for this community and the care it takes in considering all opinions. Just because a bunch of folks want to shout down the rest of the Community does not make their position the right one – especially true if some folks with strong opiniods are just passing through.
3. I do agree that cb2 is not facing the issues head on. But I also think that the proponents and the opponents do a disservice to everyone by digging in their heels, demonizing each other, and refusing to dialog and compromise as a Community. Frankly, this blog could do more to encourage dialogue instead stirring the pot.
This is very disingenuous of CB2. They brought in DOB to cover their ass. I like how the DOB official tries to exonerate CB2 by saying it is out of their hands. Knowing that CB2 can approve the backyard use contingent on getting the correct CofO from the city.
CB2, let’s face it you put a moratorium on backyard use and you are bending over backward not admit it. I have always supported Jimmy Van Bramer and I hope he starts stepping up on this issue and realize that what CB2 is doing is not right.
I would appreciate all the help I can get organizing a rally. So would our local businesses.
Thank you in advance!
David – Wish it was as easy as attending the meetings. We tried that and were made fun of, cut off, and rudely dismissed due to our position to Free the Yards. Unfortunately, even in person, we are hushed and disrespected.
Maybe we just need more numbers… let’s rally a crew for the next one!
The best climate change along Vernon Blvd. took place when Lounge 47 replaced the so called “lovely bodega”.
Read the other comments, also head over to ‘Free the Yards’ on facebook to read up on the history of cronyism within the dictator board.
Also, refer to this passage in he article:
“Blath said that the certificate of occupancy should not be all that relevant to the community board’s decision. After all, there is no reason, he said, why the board can’t approve a restaurant’s application for rear yard use and make it subject to obtaining a certificate of occupancy.
Argilio Rodriguez, an attorney who represents restaurants seeking liquor licenses, said that the State Liquor Authority requires bars/restaurants to have a certificate of occupancy before they can open their rear yards in any case. Therefore, he said, this is not an issue that the community board needs to dig into too deeply.”
Also, CB2 covers a lot of ground. Rear yards in Sunnyside do NOT have this issue. It’s specific to Vernon blvd because there is an unofficial moratorium on that block POST LOUNGE 47 BECAUSE of one particular family who is situation in between 2 mixed use buildings by choice. That family is very friendly with out NYS Assembly woman, Catherine Nolan AND is also a member if the Community Board now. Convenient.
Also, I have never denied climate change. I’m actually attending the march this weekend.
Well, this issue has gotten me interested in attending CB2 meetings live.
If residents want to have an impact, we need to start going to the CB2 meetings instead of Monday Morning Quarterbacking and complaining after the fact.
Also, there is a petition site that is worth signing to get attention to this issue, as well as a Facebook group (Freetheyards, I think).
You guys remind me of a bunch of climate change deniers. The CB is doing what you wanted: presenting you with definitive, consistent New York City guidelines for how to operate an open space. But you don’t want to hear it.
Personally, I don’t have really strong feelings on this issue either way. It’s NYC — I’m used to this place being frustrating and slow to move. What did you all expect?
But for crying out loud, I can recognize that the city DOES in fact have a process in place and zoning and safety guidelines for outdoor spaces, and there are valid reasons for them. What are you all not seeing that I am?
The CB2 board is an absolute joke……..
Show a modicum of consistency and allow responsible business owners to operate their business with consistent guidelines.
Total BS. So, why has CB2 never raised this before?
The thing is, Woodbine’s, previously Lounge 47 had the use of its backyard and the CB2 makes recommendations to the SLA re: Liquor Licenses, which has nothing to do with the DOB at that point.
It is the CB2 holding ransome its recommendations to the SLA in that case, making restaurants promise to NOT use the space or NO LIQUOR LICENSE. Correct me if i am wrong here.
All these bars on skillman that have back yards don’t have this document guarantee you and if you want to check go on the buildings dpt website and punch in the address . Copper kettle, brogue, Dog and Duck and that fireman bar. Guarantee you don’t have this.
The DOB makes up rules as they go. Theirs no consistency in this statement at all. Next meeting the owners need to demand to see the copies of this Cof O. Watch nobody has it.
So, I guess this means that Dominee’s, LIC Bar, the places on 44 Dr. and anyone else with a garden, including those in “SUNNYSIDE” all have this “SPECIAL” CofO??????
I think not. If so, Garrett would have able to shut down Lounge 47 many years ago.
So, now lets close down everyone.
The saga does not continue its only helps certain people, it’s all bs.