CB4 Mulls Nightlife vs. Quality of Life
BY EILEEN STUKANE | The restaurants, bars and clubs of Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen may be boosting the local economy — but at the May 1 full board meeting of Community Board 4 (CB4), residents who live near the boisterous eating and drinking establishments aired their frustration at the lack of good fences and the habits of bad neighbors.
At 6:30pm in the Fulton Center Auditorium, board member Christine Berthet opened the meeting with the public comment session. A broad range of issues were discussed and debated, but most prevalent among them was the matter of how nightlife is impacting quality of life.
PUBLIC COMMENT SESSION
The first to speak, Marlaine Glicksmann, alerted everyone to the fast-moving, heavy traffic that has created a dangerous corner on West 46th Street and 10th Avenue. She reported that she has been witnessing events at this corner since April 2001, and has seen pedestrians hit by vehicles, a fire hydrant knocked down and a streetlight and phone booth hit, then removed. A few weeks ago when she saw another pedestrian hit by a car, she came to CB4 for help. Playgrounds in the vicinity and a senior residence on West 46th and 10th Avenue are bringing many mothers with children and older citizens to street crossings at the location.
Prepared for these complaints, CB4 had a letter requesting a new right-hand turn traffic light and better signage (addressed to the Borough Commissioner at the Department of Transportation) in its item agenda for approval later in the evening.
Rob Bannon of Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) spoke of the organization’s application to the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) for a license to become an Article 32 provider for substance abuse treatment. This would expand the many life-saving services GMHC already provides, Bannon explained, further noting that GMHC has received grant funding to support its services — and one contributor, the Ryan White Care Program (administered by the federal government) helps GMHC treat those on Medicaid, and also helps people in need of Medicaid access it. CB4 had already crafted a letter of strong support for GMHC to be granted the license, addressed to the Commissioner of the OASAS. The letter was approved later in the meeting.
Bob Minor, co-chair of the Hell’s Kitchen West 50th to 51st Street Block Association, came forward to ask CB4 to “use your considerable influence to bring the owners of Boxers HK, on the corner of West 50th Street and 9th Avenue to CB4’s Business License and Permits Committee meeting on May 14.” Minor went on to explain how the block association had resisted the coming liquor license and “since the nice weather, Boxers has violated every single stipulation that it signed. They’ve overcrowded their roof, disrupted the neighborhood, thrown garbage from the roof because that’s the easiest way to get it down. We’ve had the police enforce an evacuation because they had 184 people in an area that was supposed to have no more than 84, although the Certificate of Occupancy is for 48.” Boxers HK bills itself as a sports bar. The New York Times describes Boxers HK as “the rare new gay bar where the majority of patrons are men.”
Joseph Haines, on the board of neighboring residences at Worldwide Plaza, described Boxers HK as having a roof party that “looks like Bourbon Street” for four nights that happened to exceed 65 degrees. Stipulations signed by the owners have been ignored. “I’ve never seen anything like it in New York City and I implore you to help,” he said to CB4. He spoke of a mother who asked what earplugs her toddler son could wear that wouldn’t hurt his ears, the din is so loud. “Boxers has a 10pm closing hour during the week. At midnight, people are still on the roof. Calls have gone unreturned. All efforts have been refused on their part,” he said. His frustration was palpable. Christine Berthet, of CB4, urged him to come to the May 14 Business License and Permits Committee meeting.
Miguel Acevedo, from the Fulton Houses tenants association, stood and said, “We live on West 16th, 17th, 18th Streets, all the way to the Meatpacking District and we’ve basically lost what sleep we ever had. There’s no more sleeping on 9th Avenue in Fulton Houses.” He blamed the intrusion on quality of life on the many liquor licenses that he feels have taken advantage of the community.
Without naming No. 8, he singled out what was supposed to be a small hamburger restaurant on West 16th Street, which was proposed as such, but is in reality a club violating the stipulations set up by the CB4. He warned CB4 to look closely at the Tao Restaurant that is scheduled for the Maritime Hotel, which he sees as bringing 1,000 people into a space that allows for 130. “I propose that this board start now — please put your foot down. Look at what happened on West 28th Street, which is so saturated the police can’t even take control of it,” he said.
Kathleen Treat, chair of the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association, spoke about the Gotham Organization’s giant development project covering West 44th to 45th Streets between 10th and 11th Avenues (1,240 units in four buildings, including a 31-story tower and two 14-story buildings). In return for the perks Gotham received from the city such as tax abatements, the community “sought valiantly, valiantly for every little crumb it got from Gotham, and one of the things we sincerely hoped for is a traditional, good supermarket, like most neighborhoods used to have,” explained Treat, who characterized the businesses Gotham is said to be courting as Eataly-like (a reference to the upscale marketplace at 23rd Street and Fifth Avenue). “Our neighborhood is not high-end,” said Treat. “It’s getting that way, but it ain’t yet, and what we need is a grocery store.”
Josh Silverstein, a volunteer with Yetta Kurland’s campaign for City Council, invited everyone to join the campaign in AIDS Walk New York, on the morning of May 19, beginning in Central Park. The campaign will be walking with the Manhattan Young Democrats.
David Glasser, a tenant in Clinton Housing at 184 11th Avenue, spoke about how there has been no hot water in the building for 30 days since November, not including 14 days without hot water and electricity due to Hurricane Sandy. Hostels in the building have packed tiny rooms and overcrowded toilet facilities. Glasser spoke of the irony of how in the past, CB4 had written a letter to the Department of Buildings and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development about the overcrowding, and the letter was signed by the person who is now the executive director of Clinton Housing who has not addressed the situation (Clinton Housing website identifies its executive director as Joe Restuccia, who is also a member of CB4).
Christine Berthet closed the public session. CB4 Chair Corey Johnson called for a vote on the adoption of the evening’s agenda. The April meeting minutes were also approved.
REPORTS FORM REPS OF ELECTED OFFICIALS
David Cyzyk, representing Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, highlighted the May 2 unveiling of The East River Blueway Plan to prepare for future storm resiliency, revitalize the East River waterfront and make it more accessible to residents. He also reported on the Start-Up City initiative being undertaken by Stringer — a drive to bring the tech sector of Silicon Valley to New York City. A recent conference for ideas for Start-Up City drew 400 people, among them many elected officials and candidates for office.
Ellen Louis, speaking for NY State Senator Brad Hoylman, announced that Senator Hoylman joined with NY State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assembly Member Richard Gottfried to work to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) to give respect and dignity to transgender people who risk discrimination in housing, education and employment. The bill has been passed by the Assembly, and will now move to the Senate. Hoylman has also introduced legislation to bar mental health professionals from practicing conversion therapy (trying to convert youth under age 18 from gay to straight), a practice already discredited by national mental health and medical associations.
Louis also reported that Hoylman has praised The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for issuing a Request for Proposals, which calls for a midtown bus master plan two-year study. The goal, as stated by Port Authority, is “to meet future capacity demands and reduce the impact of trans-Hudson buses on city streets.” Hoylman has written to the Port Authority executive director to express the need for a bus garage to alleviate the air pollution and traffic congestion caused by buses idling on local streets. He has also stated that a bus garage should allow travel to Port Authority Bus Terminal without utilizing city streets.
Hoylman is involved in the future of the property that is the soon-to-be-closed Bayview Correctional Facility at 550 West 20th Street. Louis also noted that the senator had issued a statement condemning torture as never justifiable, in response to those who called for torture of the Boston Marathon bombers.
Jeffrey LeFrancois, who spoke for State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, also noted the passing of the GENDA bill by the Assembly, which Gottfried had worked on. He brought attention to Councilmember Gale Brewer’s new legislation raising the fine for running an illegal hotel (from about $800 to $25,000), which should help prevent landlords from putting people out of their homes to rent out apartments illegally. LeFrancois reminded the board that all rigid plastics (such as food containers, hangers, etc) are now recyclable.
Paul Sawyer, representing Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, announced that her legislation for pay equity for public employees was passed on April 2, and that her bill to have teachers trained in the use of EpiPens (auto-injectors to treat allergic reactions) has been picked up by the Senate. Rosenthal is currently pressing New York City Animal Care and Control (ACC) to make animal shelters more full service and no kill. The city committed to invest $10 million in the ACC, but instead it has reduced its funding by $1 million.
Harriet Sedgwick, representing City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, reported that after wrangling with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the same guidelines that were used for occupancy at Manhattan Plaza (70 percent for people in the performing arts; 30 percent for CB4 residents) will be mirrored in a new building being constructed at 529 West 29th Street. The announcement was greeted with long applause. On the legislative side, Speaker Quinn has introduced legislation to raise the smoking age to 21, which could reduce the smoking rate of 18 to 20-year-olds by 55 percent and among 14 to 17-year-olds by two-thirds. She also voted on legislation to make it easier for the city to carry out the ban on electric bikes, with fines of $100 for business that use these bikes (and $150 for subsequent violations).
Matt Bitz, representing City Comptroller John Liu, spoke of the Comptroller’s four-year plan for the People’s Budget, which would generate nearly $15 billion in new resources that can be redirected into tax relief, schools housing (and also create 35,000 jobs). He cited Liu’s victory in his oversight of New York City pension funds, and making agreements with three banks (Capital One, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo) to expand their policies on clawbacks to clawing back incentive pay from executives who are responsible for misconduct that causes financial or reputational harm.
NEW TO CB4
With the representatives of elected officials having completed their reports, Robert Benfatto, CB4 District Manager, announced that CB4’s Community Planner Nelly Gonzalez would be starting maternity leave, returning in August as the new Assistant District Manager. CB4 intern Janine Pretente would continue in the office. An email sent by Benfatto on May 10 noted, “Nelly Gonzalez had her baby last night, May 9, 2013 at 11:59PM. His name is Elijah Jose Reid. He was 8lbs., 9ozs. and 21 inches. The mother is well and resting. The baby is healthy and happy. I hear the daddy is exhausted.”
New to CB4, and welcomed for the first time at this meeting, Erica Baptiste has been hired to take over as Community Planner/Associate. Erica introduced herself to the membership, offering that she was originally from the San Francisco Bay area but came to New York City to attend graduate school at Pratt Institute, studying city and regional planning. She appears to be here to stay.
PROLIFERATION OF BARS AND OTHER COMMUNITY CONCERNS
Chair Corey Johnson carried out the official vote for the hire of Erica and proceeded to address the 35 items on the evening’s agenda. Items from the Landmarks, Quality of Life, Housing Health and Human Services, Waterfront Parks and Environment, Business Licenses and Permits, Transportation Planning and Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Land Use were all on the agenda — but the greatest number of items fell in letters to the State Liquor Authority (SLA) in regard to new or changing restaurants, bars and clubs.
Attention was given to correspondence in support of the preservation of the Old Chelsea Station (OCS) post office, at 217 West 18th Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. An April 11 meeting initiated by CB4 to address the United States Postal Service’s (USPS) proposed relocation of the post office for a possible future sale of the building to a private developer, drew much distress from the community and attending elected officials. Public comment for the proposed relocation ended on April 26, and a decision will be reached by the USPS in the coming weeks. CB4 is urging the Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the OCS as a New York City landmark as soon as possible. CB4 is also requesting the USPS to consider alternatives to the site’s closure. Suggestions for preserving the existing building by reworking the space, using a smaller footprint and renting vacant space or selling and transferring air rights are to be included in a letter to Mr. Joseph J. Mulvey, USPS’s Real Estate Specialist, which was approved by the board.
Discussion also ensued over the issue of the NYPD Tow Pound at Pier 76, near West 36th Street and the Hudson River. Since 2011, CB4 has been trying to learn from the city what efforts are being made to relocate the tow pound, since 50 percent of it is to be developed for passive and active public open space, and the other 50 percent retained by New York City for unspecified commercial development. CB4 is trying to get answers as to what is happening and has asked the city to initiate a study or task force to find a solution for relocating the tow pound as stipulated by New York State law (the Hudson River Park Act). This issue was carefully refined in a letter to Governor Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg, Speaker Silver and Speaker Skelos.
The public session brought out the frustration of community residents over their quality of life, which they feel is declining due to the noise and general rowdiness of patrons at the many bars and clubs in the CB4 area. Board members were not immune to their distress. Questions of whether certain types of bars, clubs and restaurants can be prohibited in specific areas was raised. Johnson explained that “If an operator is in compliance, has a plan and there are not real reasons to deny the [liquor] license, [the State Liquor Authority] grants the license. Our leverage is in putting in meaningful stipulations that are helpful to the community.” He acknowledged that meeting with the SLA, and having conversations with them since there are so many concerns, and so many liquor licenses coming in every month, would be worthwhile. CB4 co-chair of the business license and permits committee, Paul Seres, raised the issue of zoning in regard to the commercial establishments in the community. “The issue is not the SLA licensing, the issue is zoning, you’re talking about commercial overload, C6 allows this type of use. Change the zoning and you’ll change the area,” he said.
Discussion over the board’s stipulations, recommendations for approvals and denials of a number of the 16 establishments on the agenda continued. It became clear that if a community board issues an outright denial for a liquor license, the SLA may grant the license anyway. Then, the community board has lost its chance to be included in the licensing stipulations, such as hours and capacity.
CB4 member John Sharp asked whether there was a way to post some sort of notice, similar to the new restaurant grading notices, to alert residents as to whether an establishment is adhering to stipulations (as Boxers HK was not). “So we’re not allowed to do that,” said Johnson with a touch of humor. He then explained that the state legislature is trying to come up with a system of transparency so that anyone can look up stipulations online more easily, as right now, “It’s like trying to get the Sphinx to figure it out.”
COMMUNITY BOARD 4 serves Manhattan’s West Side neighborhoods of Chelsea and Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen. Its boundaries are 14th St. on the south, 59/60th St. on the north, the Hudson River on the west, 6th Ave. on the east (south of 26th St.) and 8th Ave. on the east (north of 26th St.). The board meeting, open to the public, is the first Wednesday of the month. The next meeting is Wed., June 5, 6:30pm, at Fulton Auditorium (119 9th Ave., btw. 17th & 18th Sts.). Call 212-736-4536, visit nyc.gov/mcb4 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.