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Organizers Upset Over Attempts to Limit Midtown Street Fairs

By DNAinfo Staff on March 7, 2011 5:08am  | Updated on March 7, 2011 5:15am

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MIDTOWN — Street fair organizers are livid after being told their decades-old events could be in jeopardy thanks to new rules just passed by Midtown’s Community Board 5.

The board passed a set of guidelines last month designed to limit the size and frequency of the fairs, whose ubiquitous tube socks and grilled sausage carts are a common summer sight to most New Yorkers.

Residents and local businesses owners have long complained the fairs clog streets, choke traffic, leave a trail of garbage and hurt businesses in the neighborhood, which now hosts more than 20 percent of the street events that take place city-wide, CB5’s Consents and Variance Committee Chair Ron Dwenger said.

Among the new guidelines are rules barring back-to-back events on the same streets and events run by groups without headquarters in the district.

But fair organizers were shocked to learn that the rules had been imposed without their knowledge months after their applications were filed with the city.

"It’s outrageous," said Michael Buonauro, a communications officer for the Daytop Village, a drug and alcohol abuse treatment center which had planned to hold its 18th annual music festival on Madison Avenue between East 42nd and East 57th streets on Sunday, Aug. 21 this year. The "Strawberry Festival" is an important fundraising event for the center and the centerpiece for its Drug Free New York Day, Buonauro said. The fair is now at risk.

The problem, Buonauro was informed, is that the Workmen's Circle, a Jewish social justice organization, is planning its annual celebration of Klezmer Jewish jazz music on the same streets a Sunday earlier — a violation of the board’s new edict against holding two events on successive weekends along the same stretch.

Organizers were told they could either combine the two events on the same weekend with Daytop from East 42nd to East 50th streets and Workmen’s Circle between East 50th and East 57th streets, or lose community board backing altogether.

But organizers of both fairs said that combining forces would be impossible, since the events are run by competing promoters: Clearview Festival Productions and Mardi Gras Festival Productions.

They warned that no insurance would back side-by-side events run by two different companies.

"It’s not an option in that particular street. ... That is not going to work," said Todd Berman, who produces the Daytop festival for Clearview, which bills itself as the city’s largest street festival production company.

Berman said that had his clients been aware of the board’s new rules they happily would have filed applications for different dates.

"You passed a resolution that my applicant was not aware of," Berman told the committee at a meeting Thursday night. "If your objective is to combine these things and reduce these things then lets work together to do that," he urged the committee before it voted to deny the events unless they abide by the terms.

"This infuriates me. This is not the way to achieve a reduction," Berman later said. "I don’t think that was right."

Mardi Gras Festival’s Joseph Giovanni, who represented the Workmen's Circle events, also objected to the board.

"Your resolutions were filed last month. We filed these in November," he protested.

Both organizers said they plan to appeal the decision to the Mayor's Street Activity Permit Office (SAPO), which is ultimately in charge of issuing the permits.

The deadline for filing applications with SAPO is Dec. 31 of the previous year, but applicants are allowed to petition the city to make a change to their original permit application, city spokeswoman Evelyn Erskine said.

The community board committee also voted to deny a handful of other fairs whose organizers do not have their headquarters in the district, including the New York Young Republican Club.

The club, which holds many of its events in Community District 5, has organized a fair in the neighborhood for the past 12 years. But because the group lacks a physical office, their application was denied.

"I know we consider ourselves part of CB5," a representative for the group appealed.

Thirty-one street fairs were approved to return by the committee, including events organized by the Union Square Community Coalition, the Church of St. John the Baptist and the Sierra Club’s Earth Awareness Day Festival.

The full board is set to cast its vote on March 10.