Electeds Thirst to End NYC's State Liquor Authority Dry Spell - Manhattan Express | Manhattan Express

Electeds Thirst to End NYC’s State Liquor Authority Dry Spell

Appearing before one’s community board is a compulsory step for liquor license applicants on the road to SLA approval. Seen here, a July 2017 meeting of CB4’s Business Licenses & Permits Committee. | P‹hoto by Winnie McCroy

BY REBECCA FIORE | With a vacant seat on the State Liquor Authority (SLA) board, state Senator Brad Hoylman introduced a bill to the State Senate requiring at least one member of the board be a resident of New York City.

Hoylman, along with Assemblymember Deborah Glick, penned a joint letter on Jan. 3 urging Governor Andrew Cuomo to appoint someone who lives in the five boroughs, since the city “has the largest concentration of SLA-licensed businesses in New York State,” the letter reads.

The SLA is from the Division of Alcohol Beverage Control, part of the New York State Executive Department. There are two commissioners and one chair, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.

The current chair, appointed on June 24, 2015, is Vincent Bradley, a native and resident of Ulster County, in upstate New York. Commissioner Greeley T. Ford was confirmed June 17, 2016, and lives in Camden, just outside of Syracuse.

The SLA board spokesperson noted that Chairman Bradley has lived and worked in New York City for well over a decade and still owns an apartment in Manhattan.

Hoylman’s bill was introduced in March of 2017 — nearly seven months after Commissioner Kevin Kim, who previously served on Manhattan’s Community Board 5 from 2010-2011, stepped down after completing a two-year term. Terms are normally three years, but Kim was completing the previous commissioner’s term. When the time came, he chose not to be reappointed.

Kim lived in Manhattan during his time on the SLA board.

“In general we have never had a vacancy in recent years for this law. We never, in my memory, [didn’t have a] New York City representative,” Hoylman said. “So it’s a double whammy for residents in our neighborhoods with an SLA seat vacant. That’s a burden on the SLA itself.”

Hoylman said he believes having a commissioner from the community brings a better perspective to the unique problems that arise in neighborhoods with high concentrations of restaurants and bars. 

“The idea has been generated by the fact that more than half of the state’s 3,000 plus license applications originated in New York City,” Hoylman said. “It makes sense that this very important authority have at least one city resident who understands our neighborhoods from a first person perspective.”

Along with Assemblymember Deborah Glick, State Senator Brad Hoylman is actively petitioning for NYC representation on the State Liquor Authority board. | Photo courtesy of Office of Senator Brad Hoylman

Assemblymember Glick said she feels that Chairman Bradley hasn’t been as understanding as previous chairs.

“The new chair seems quite indifferent to neighborhood concerns and that’s why we would like to request a meeting, but also would like the governor to appoint someone who comes from New York City,” Glick said.

She added that while the vacant seat would ideally be filled with someone from Manhattan, someone from a densely populated neighborhood in another borough would also be welcomed (citing Williamsburg, Brooklyn as an example).

Establishments apply for a liquor license and are required to give the local community board a 30-day notice. The board has the applicant fill out a stipulation form, including how big the place will be, level of music, hours, outdoor seating, and so on. The board meets with the applicant, and encourages them to meet with appropriate block associations or co-ops and tries to come up with an agreement, and then the board sends a letter of recommendation to the SLA.

Notorious for weekend brunches during which drunken revelers spilled out onto the sidewalk, Il Bastardo closed its Seventh Ave. location in response to SLA scrutiny (and fines) brought about by the dogged determination of neighbors, block associations, and Community Board 4. | Photo courtesy CCBA

Frank Holozubiec, co-chair of Community Board 4’s Business Licenses & Permits (BPL) Committee, said the SLA often agrees with the community board’s recommendation. He did say, however, that there are rare cases when the board doesn’t want an establishment, but isn’t certain the SLA will see it their way.

“There are situations where the community may think a new license is undesirable, but we are concerned that if we recommend outright denial to the SLA, the SLA may disagree and grant a license where the applicant can be open until 4 a.m.,” Holozubiec said. “Because we don’t have any certainty that the SLA will side with us if there’s an actual battle, we try to avoid those situations.”

Hoylman noted the community boards “carry great weight with the SLA, particularly in recent years. Boards are savvy enough to know that outright denials often fall on deaf ears with the SLA.”

Having a commissioner from the city would be helpful in understanding the differences between city life and upstate living, Holozubiec said.

“A patio surrounded by a parking lot in a bar in an upstate town presents different noise concerns than a rear yard in a residential block that is surrounded by dozens of apartments,” he said. “If you live in NYC, you understand, for example, that the tenement buildings on Ninth Ave. are over 100 years old and not soundproofed to modern standards. If you replaced a hardware store with a bar, there will be noise issues for the residents upstairs.”

Holozubiec added that he doesn’t feel there has been a lack of communication with the SLA, but that representation matters.

“I’m not saying that the current SLA commissioners lack knowledge of such issues, but a resident of NYC has more direct experience and lives day-to-day with these issues.”

At a Jan. 9 BLP committee meeting, members voted 9-1 in favor of granting the iconic Chelsea Hotel (222 W. 23rd St., btw. Seventh & Eight Aves.) a liquor license, with additional stipulations that there will be no rooftop bar and no alcohol sold in outdoor spaces. The committee will present this to the full board at their next monthly meeting (Feb. 7), for a final recommendation to the SLA.

Liquor license applicants are often small business owners, Hoylman said, whose workers and families are “people trying to make it.”

“There are more license holders than ever in New York City and that’s a good thing generally speaking,” he said. “We have a vibrant local economy as a result. For the most part, license holders respect their neighbors, but there’s a lot of work to be done. The commission should have its full members to make sure they can do the job.”

At Community Board 4’s Jan. 9 Business Licenses & Permits Committee meeting, members voted 9-1 in favor of granting a liquor license to the iconic Chelsea Hotel — but with stipulations. The State Liquor Authority is often receptive to CB4’s recommendations, but local elected officials want at least one member of the SLA board to be a resident of New York City. | Photo by Scott Stiffler

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