MANHATTAN — The State Liquor Authority’s new map plotting every bar in the city is earning rave review from residents — but industry advocates fear it might be used to hobble new establishments from opening.
As first reported by DNAinfo.com, the new interactive map, which went live late last week, is designed to help residents and community boards keep track of restaurants, bars and clubs in their neighborhoods amid growing complaints from some who believe the borough is being overrun by noisy, raucous watering holes.
"I think it's an incredibly helpful tool," said Susanna Aaron, a longtime West Village resident and Community Board 2 member.
The map plots every existing and pending liquor license in the city, as well as the number and type of violations a bar or restaurant has received — information previously available only with a Freedom of Information Law request. Users can also search by name or owner, and can plot the location of churches and schools, which the SLA takes into consideration when reviewing new licenses.
Aaron added that while she finds the interface a little cumbersome, it will make it significantly easier to access information the board previously struggled to gather before public hearings on new applications.
The program, for instance, comes with a measuring tool that lets users calculate the distance between a proposed new bar and the nearest church or school, or count how many establishments are operating within 500 feet of a proposed new restaurant — two key measures under state liquor law.
"It’s an enormous help," agreed Jeff Ehrlich, co-chairman of Community Board 1's SLA Process Review Task Force, who devoted hours of time mapping every single liquor license in TriBeCa several years ago and said the new map would have done all that work for him in a fraction of the time.
"I'm very happy with it."
State Sen. Daniel Squadron, who helped secure the $369,000 that was used to create the map, also praised the effort.
"This website will make life a whole lot easier for communities and businesses. Everyone benefits from more transparency and efficiency," he said in a statement announcing the launch.
But industry experts said they worry the information included in the map will be misinterpreted by some or used as a tool to try to keep new owners out.
Terry Flynn, counsel to the United Restaurant and Tavern Owners Association, said he hadn't yet seen the finished product, but feared that some of the information, like violations, could be "extremely misleading" to those unfamiliar with the violations process, especially without more details about a bar or restaurant's particular circumstances.
He blamed the SLA for failing to reach out to groups like his for input.
"I think the problem is the industry itself [was] certainly not ever invited to give any comment on it," he said, arguing that, given the economy, the government should be working with businesses, not against them.
"Restaurants and bars already face many challenges. The last thing they need is for erroneous information that can hurt their business to be posted online," agreed Andrew Rigie, executive vice president of the city's chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association, who also worried the site could be misused.
"It would be unfortunate if this website is abused and used as a platform for disgruntled individuals to damage the reputation and economic viability of responsible restaurant operators," he said in an email.
A spokesman for the SLA did not respond to questions concerning the complaints.
Robert Bookman, counsel to the New York Nightlife association, who has spent 15 year as a nightlife lawyer, said he thinks the new map will actually be helpful to individuals who are looking to open new bars and restaurants and might be curious about other nearby businesses and hurdles they might face when making their case to the SLA.
But he, too, questioned whether violations should be included.
"I don’t think those are features that should be on a website," he said, likening the act to a district attorney's office publicizing accusations or pending investigations on its website.
Residents, however, said the map is missing key pieces of information: an establishment's method of operation, which includes the hours it's supposed to be open; whether a DJ is permitted; and other stipulations negotiated with the community board.
Aaron said boards spend an "inordinate" amount of time negotiating these rules with new businesses, but because this information isn't accessible, neighbors don't know if establishments are in violation of the rules.
"The community and law enforcement is still at a serious disadvantage," she said. "It just hobbles the entire enforcement system and just makes the community board’s efforts to naught."
Residents suggested scanning the stipulations and including them as PDFs.