MANHATTAN — The 2nd Ave Deli’s new Upper East Side branch has been so successful serving up its famed pastrami and corned-beef sandwiches it's already outgrown the 75-seat space and is hoping to add 120 more seats on the second floor.
The local community board, however, wants to put the kibosh on the expansion, voting down the deli's plans to enlarge the First Avenue shop Wednesday.
Owners Jeremy and Josh Lebewohl bought the 1442 First Ave. walk-up, at East 75th Street in 2009, but construction hurdles delayed the opening for two years. After operating for less than a year, the owners now face a new challenge — expanding to the second floor, which requires a variance from the Board of Standards and Appeals.
The Lebewohls' lawyer appeared Wednesday night before Community Board 8 to plead their case in advance of the restaurant's BSA hearing.
"They own the building," attorney Irving Minkin said. "The use is not an issue," he added, because the two second-floor apartments have already been emptied — voluntarily, according to Minkin.
"Bulk is not an issue. Light and air is not an issue because it’s a corner building."
He said there would be no cooking or deliveries on the already-vacant 1,300-square-foot second floor, so it wouldn’t be too disruptive to remaining tenants. Minkin stressed the owners want to keep these tenants in the building even though it's not required.
The deli needs permission to expand because it has residential tenants on the third and fourth floors and was built before 1970, Minkin said. Buildings constructed after 1970 in the same zone wouldn't need to seek permission, so if owners tore the building down and built a new one, they’d have no problem, he said.
As they voted down the plan, community board members said it had "chutzpah." Some questioned whether the second-floor tenants actually left on their own accord, and said they doubted that living above a restaurant wouldn’t be nuisance.
"We’re constantly taking away rent-regulated apartments," CB 8 member Matt Bondy said, expressing concern about the two lost apartments.
The deli’s lawyer tried to downplay noise issues for the tenants but, Bondy said, "You don’t talk about the 150 people eating there, the busboys that throw dishes in bins."
Minkin told DNAinfo that one of the displaced tenants relocated to an upper floor in the building when a vacancy opened. The other moved, and Minkin acknowledged this might have been because he didn’t want to live above a restaurant.
But the expansion, he said, "harms no one."
The community board’s vote is only advisory.