'Ghetto' Mount Morris Park Liquor Store Hit With DOB, Landmarks Violations

By Jeff Mays on November 29, 2011 6:40am | Updated on November 29, 2011 7:51am

A stop work order and violations were issued against a liquor store at 183 Lenox Ave., at West 119th Street that residents say is out of character with the historic district.
A stop work order and violations were issued against a liquor store at 183 Lenox Ave., at West 119th Street that residents say is out of character with the historic district.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM— A new liquor store in the Mount Morris Park historic district not only angered area residents who said it was "ghetto" and out of character with the neighborhood, it has also attracted the ire of the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Department of Buildings.

The LPC issued a warning letter to the owner of the yet-unnamed store at the bottom of the landmarked building 183 Lenox Ave. at 119th Street, after learning the store had installed a large neon and metal sign and a security gate without the required permission from the commission, LPC spokeswoman Elisabeth de Bourbon said.

"The owner is being told that the gate and sign are not in compliance with landmark law because the owner did not receive permits for either," said de Bourbon.

The owner has 20 days to respond to the commission or face fines. The owner also has the option of applying for a permit or trying to legalize the work. The Landmarks Commission could also force the owner to remove the changes entirely.

"The standard we use is whether it's appropriate to the style of the building, character of the building and the surrounding buildings in the neighborhood," said de Bourbon. "If the commission decides it's not appropriate then the owner would have to install gates and signs that do meet the rules."

The Department of Buildings has also issued a stop work order at the site, warning that construction on the the interior of the store and the sign were performed in a "dangerous or unsafe manner," the DOB confirmed.

The DOB also issued three violations for working without a permit on the sign, facade and interior.

The owner of the building at 183 Lenox Ave. did not respond to requests for comment.

The sanctions come on the heels of complaints by neighbors and members of Community Board 10, who say they were not consulted before the store owners installed a wall of bulletproof plexiglass separating customers from the store clerk and the alcohol, and slapped up a a garish yellow and red neon sign on the façade.

Members of the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association said they had hoped to see an upscale wine and liquor store in the area, but were disappointed when they saw the sign and plexiglass being installed.

"I'm not accustomed to going to a store and pointing through a plexiglass and saying what I want. I might want to pick up the product," said Syderia Chresfield, president of the association.

"We are working toward revitalization of Lenox Avenue. We want stores there to serve the neighborhood," said Chresfield.

Members of the association said they feared the look would bring down the character of a neighborhood with multi-million dollar brownstones, and attract an unsavory clientele accustomed to buying liquor from behind plexiglass during Harlem's gritty era that many say they are happy to have left behind.

"There are long-time residents who have spent a lot of time and money improving that area and are very invested. To have something like this appear, I understand why they feel disrespected," said CB 10 District Manager Paimaan Lodhi.

Nearby business owners like Leah Abraham, co-owner of Ristorante Settepani, have approached the liquor store owner, who they said was amenable to change. Given the potential of the neighborhood, the owner could attract a much wider clientele if the store was more inviting, said Abraham.

"The concept of the liquor store with plexiglass takes us back 20 years," she said.

A man named Zerayb, who said he worked for the liquor store owner, told DNAinfo.com previously that the sign was handcrafted and cost $4,500. He said he thought the sign was better than the cloth canopies starting to dot the avenue.

The store was willing to work with the community to come up with a more pleasing design, he added.

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