At CB4, Rezoning and the Danger of Mid-Block Restaurants
BY WINNIE McCROY | Residents of Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen gathered at Roosevelt Hospital on the evening of April 1 for the monthly full board meeting of Community Board 4 (CB4). Topics of discussion included the state budget, the hotly contested zoning rule changes by the New York City Department of City Planning, and the application to the State Liquor Authority (SLA) for a beer and wine license by Ichiran, a new restaurant to open mid-block on W. 20th St. (btw. Sixth & Seventh Aves.).
“We are opposed to Ichiran, because of the board’s own policy regarding alcohol-serving establishments on side streets and all the problems that go along with that,” said William Borock, president of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations. “We don’t want CB4 to approve this with stipulations, because the neighbors will suffer from all kinds of quality of life issues. We saw the family fondue restaurant The Ainsworth change into a sports bar, and we can see that Ichiran will want to change after they’re approved. After agreeing to close at 10:30 p.m. they came back later and tried to change it to 12 a.m. They want to serve hard liquor, and they already serve shōchū, which is 30 percent alcohol… We ask that you don’t take the lesser of two evils, but that you vote ‘no.’ They need to find a location on the avenue that is more suited.”
Borock was one of a half-dozen community members who spoke passionately against granting a beer and wine license to the Japanese chain ramen restaurant that has already obtained a lease for a mid-block location (at 123 W. 20th St.) for their 150-seat restaurant.
“I hope that members who know the importance of keeping our residential streets residential will speak up,” urged resident Diane Nichols.
Sydney Price, owner of City Treehouse (a nature-themed children’s play center), and her husband Andrew Price, a pediatrician, work near the site of the new restaurant. She asserted that Ichiran “would have a huge negative impact on my business to have trash around, and have children not be able to get down the sidewalk.”
Michael Walsh said residents of his building were opposed to the business opening up next door to them, noting the early controversy over their desired 4 a.m. closing time.
“Ichiran is welcome, but they are better off on the avenue, where they can stay open late,” said Walsh. Eric Freedman and Sam Glassman, also Ichiran block residents, echoed this sentiment.
CB4 members discussed the contentious issue at length, with the majority of members agreeing that the mid-block location was less than ideal. Ultimately, they voted 27-6 to send a ‘Deny Unless’ letter to the SLA, recommending a denial of the beer and wine license unless Ichiran maintained their 10:30 p.m. closing time; kept their patrons in an indoor waiting room rather than on the street; secured garbage pickup before 11 p.m. on weeknights and by 1 a.m. on Saturdays; and that they declined to serve the stronger sake and shōchū beverages, which are permitted under the beer and wine license.
“This is truly a classic rock and a hard place situation,” said CB4’s Lisa Daglian. “It’s clearly not the best place for this, but the bottom line is that we’re stuck. It’s best to have some control over this. So now we just have to make sure they do what they say they would.”
Another SLA approval letter was sent to the adult entertainment club Esquire on 622 W. 47th St. Although CB4 member Martin Treat exclaimed, “It looks like a whorehouse to me,” member Paul Seres spoke of a long and positive history with these responsible business owners, noting that the club “was good for this dark and dank block.
“They are good operators. They don’t want to draw any negative attention from the police and so they keep their patrons in line,” said Seres.
STATE PASSES BUDGET ON TIME
Elected officials rushed back from Albany to share the results of budget negotiations, among them Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal and State Senator Brad Hoylman.
“The Senate, which is run by Republicans, has one agenda. We in Congress have another agenda, and then there’s the governor, and on some issues it was two against one,” said Rosenthal. “It’s very hard to completely turn around a budget you don’t agree with, so you do your best to take out the things that are the worst.”
Rosenthal described as “manipulative” some policy issues that were tied to the budget, for example The DREAM Act, which the Assembly passed for a number of years, but Republicans blocked. This year, they tied it to a tax credit that allowed donors to parochial schools to receive a 75 percent tax credit. The Assembly balked at this.
There was also a school aid package giving $350M to schools, linked with Governor’s proposals for teacher evaluations, and funding for pre-K in both the city and the state. They also secured a record-breaking $100M in funding for New York City Housing Authority, to be administered by the state because of NYCHA’s history of mismanaging funds; and $440M to house the city’s 60,000 homeless. They secured $15M for a pilot program to reduce homelessness by helping people pay their rent, plus more beds for runaway and homeless youth, and funds for rape crisis programs.
State Senator Brad Hoylman also spoke on budget issues, praising the $4.5M allocated for homeless youth, saying, “It’s not much in a $142 billion budget, but for kids who are turned away 5,000 times a year, it could create 1,000 new beds across the state.”
Hoylman thanked pop star Miley Cyrus, Covenant House, The Ali Forney Center, Empire State Pride Agenda and Councilmember Corey Johnson for their help. He also welcomed citizens to an Open House at 322 Eighth Ave. on April 24 to celebrate Earth Day, speaking on the importance of environmental conservation and the ability for companies to purchase carbon future credits, with the money used to lessen climate change. Hoylman expressed grief that the budget diverted $40M of these Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative funds into the general fund, saying legislators were “chipping away at the best tool in the kit.”
He also expressed misgivings about an ethics package that he believes didn’t go far enough to close the LLC loophole that allows companies to donate more than $10,000 to political campaigns; and about legislators that continue to accept private clients who patronize them because they afford a back door to the legislature. “It seems commonsensical,” said Hoylman, who noted that common sense “isn’t something you always find in Albany.”
Also making an appearance was Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who arrived from Washington, DC, to speak seriously about negotiations to come to an agreement on nuclear weapons with Iran.
Nadler urged people to support President Barack Obama’s efforts to lift economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for ending their nuclear programs and agreeing to regular inspections. He said that without this agreement, the U.S. would either have to let Iran race toward creating a bomb, or attack.
“And a war with Iran would not be over in a week. They are not to be trifled with,” said Nadler candidly. “I view Iran as a greater threat to us than ISIS or anything else in the Middle East. ISIS is savage, but they don’t pose the potential threat to the U.S. that Iran does.”
CB4 ELECTS NEW 2nd VICE CHAIR
Another item of business was the special election of a new 2nd Vice Chair for CB4; they preside over meetings in the absence of the Chair and the 1st Vice Chair and deal with budget issues. Nominees were Ernest Moderelli IV and Burt Lazarin. Both men are longtime CB4 members, with Moderelli serving six years, being co-chair of the Transportation Planning and handling social networking. He said his Masters degree in Public Administration would be useful in budgeting issues. Lazarin, who was not present, sent a statement noting that he was a member for 10 years and a Chelsea resident for 38 years. District Manager Jesse Bodine tallied up written ballots. Moderelli won 23-11 and is now the new 2nd Vice Chair of CB4.
CONCERN MOUNTS OVER DCP SCOPING
The meeting ended with a frank look at the Department of City Planning’s hasty plan to make zoning rule changes throughout the entire city that could drastically change regulations on the height, size and shape of new residential developments.
As reported in the March 26 issue of Chelsea Now, the move drew the ire of many vocal community members, who spoke against the plans at a March 25 “public scoping meeting,” telling the DCP that the process was moving too fast, and could destroy their efforts to maintain the character of the neighborhood.
The rezoning plans came so quickly that Burt Lazarin and Betty Mackintosh of Quality and Affordability Zoning, who had testified before DCP last week, didn’t even have time to draft a letter opposing it. As J.D. Noland remarked, sending this letter was very important, as DCP had already begun their formal process, which would be followed by the seven-month ULURP process. All members voted that the DCP needed to study the impact of their proposal before rezoning.
“This is the greatest threat to our contextual districts,” warned Lazarin. “They want to give developers the extra space to build out to their full FAR [Floor Area Ratio].”
The next full board meeting of CB4 will be held on Wed., May 6 at the Fulton Auditorium (119 Ninth Ave. btw. 17th & 18th Sts.). For more info: Call 212-736-4536, visit nyc.gov/mcb4 or email them at email@example.com.