The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Residents, Bar Owners at Odds Over East Village Liquor Licenses

By Patrick Hedlund | February 22, 2011 1:41pm
An East Village resident held up a sign at a Community Board 3 policy meeting last summer stating that the neighborhood's 10003 zip code has the second-highest number of drinking establishments in the country.
An East Village resident held up a sign at a Community Board 3 policy meeting last summer stating that the neighborhood's 10003 zip code has the second-highest number of drinking establishments in the country.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Patrick Hedlund

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

EAST VILLAGE — Neighbors overwhelmed by the spread of nightlife venues are crying foul over the local community board's failure make it more difficult for current liquor licensees to transfer the treasured asset.

Last summer, Community Board 3 began holding a series of meetings to examine its current policies for approving or denying liquor license applications in the increasingly bar- and club-saturated Lower East Side and East Village.

A sticking point of the board's discussions was whether a current licensee should continue to have the ability to transfer a liquor license, or whether the operator receiving the transfer should be considered a new applicant altogether, subjecting the license to stricter regulations for approval.

Members stated that CB3 was the only community board in Manhattan that allowed for the seamless transfer of liquor licenses, arguing that the board should fall in line with the rest of the city to help manage the flow of new nightlife establishments in the neighborhood.

But bar owners on the board countered that because businesses currently reserve the right to transfer their existing liquor licenses as is, the license itself possessed untold value that, if lost, could severely affect future transactions that the owners had banked on.

In response, the board moved last week to retain its policy of transferring liquor license as-of-right — a decision that will be voted on by the full board Tuesday night — angering some residents who feel powerless in changing the process.

"Our question is, why does this exist in Community Board 3 and no other boards?" said Kurt Cavanaugh, managing director of the East Village Community Coalition, which has supported changing the transfer process.

"Is it just simply on the side of the bar owners so they can use the liquor license as an asset, or is it something completely different?"

The board's committee tasked with weighing new liquor license applications is currently stocked with three members who own nightlife businesses in the district and have come out against the recommended changes to the policy.

"Generally speaking, when a bar owner or restaurant owner goes to sell their business, they have a certain value for that business," said Ariel Palitz, a CB3 liquor license committee member who also owns the East Village club Sutra, speaking as a business owner and not on behalf of the board.

"There's no value to the barstools, there's no value to the turntables. The value is in the ability to sell the potential for someone else to be able to make the same living and earning as I did — or maybe better."

While existing liquor licenses would still be "grandfathered" to a new operator under the approval process, the board will nonetheless consider applicants on a case-by-case basis and use any past infractions against an establishment against the new applicant.

Regardless, some on the board want to know what gives CB3 the ability to maintain this transfer policy aside from pressure from bar-owning board members.

"I still don't know where that right [to transfer] comes from," said Alexandra Militano, chairwoman of the board's liquor license committee. "I have to yet find a law pointing to that right."

Since last week's decision, EVCC's Cavanaugh has been flooded with e-mails from concerned residents claiming "our voice wasn't heard at all."

"The general sentiment has been that the community feels kind of wronged by the decision," he said. "They see the community board as not standing up for what's best for the community."

Cavanaugh added that residents believed they were simply overpowered by board members who came against the proposed change in policy.

"In the end," he said, "the bar owners won."

Community Board 3 meets Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at P.S. 20, 166 Essex St.