By Catherine Featherston
Special to DNAinfo.com New York
Washington Heights — La Marina owners appeared before members of the community this week to answer to concerns that the popular Inwood restaurant is causing traffic and overcrowding headaches for residents.
Jerald Tenebaum and Josh Rosen, co-owners of the resort-like bar and restaurant, said at Community Board 12’s parks and cultural affairs meeting Tuesday night that the establishment had a positive impact on the community.
“Before, it was a no man's land," said Rosen during a PowerPoint presentation at the meeting. "And now it's controlled."
The owners aimed to ease concerns about noise, crowds, garbage and traffic that had arisen in the neighborhood since La Marina opened this summer. But they also argued that the social media criticism of the restaurant had gone too far, saying it amounted to "hyperbole, lies and race baiting."
The owners, however, conceded that increased traffic has become a problem, and committed to working with working with city agencies, the board and members of the community members to find a resolution.
Harlan Pruden, chair of the committee, applauded the restaurant’s willingness to work with the stakeholders to address the concerns.
“I think La Marina’s commitment to work with agencies, like the Department of Transportation, to improve traffic patterns and lower the impact we see from large events is important,” he said.
But Leah Holzel, who lives Riverside Drive and Seaman Avenue, said she is engulfed by traffic most evenings Thursday through Sunday.
“My apartment is plopped down into a solid gridlock parking lot from 4:00 in the afternoon until 2:30 in the morning,” she said. “This is a very real problem and these infrastructure issues need to be addressed.”
While all parties were on the same page about traffic being a problem — the restaurant, situated at the end of a cul-de-sac, creates a bottleneck on Dyckman Street, particularly during concerts and special events — there were stark disagreements about the cause of the gridlock.
Some community members say out-of-sync lights contribute to the problem, but many at the meeting said the bigger issue is La Marina's capacity.
“The community was led to believe the capacity would be 500,” said resident Kristin Norderval. “When you say you couldn’t anticipate there would be so many people coming to your events, that to me doesn’t square with the fact that you’re advertising really big concerts that are drawing thousands of people.”
Celebrities, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jay-Z and Beyonce, have visited La Marina over the summer. US Weekly, in fact, ranked it No. 1 on its list of top five celebrity-loved restaurants in the city.
La Marina's inside seating is limited to 279, but Tenebaum explained the group’s architect and the City’s Department of Small Business Services are still figuring out the accurate capacity for the outdoor space at the location.
“It’s an open question right now,” he said.
Despite community concerns about noise and congestion, most residents agreed La Marina's presence is better for the community than the drugs and garbage that occupied the space in the past.
“I’m in favor of La Marina,” said CB12 member Elizabeth Lorris Ritter. “I find it to be a good addition to the neighborhood.”
“That we now have a world-class destination in the very heart of our neighborhood is not only a source of great pride, but more importantly, it speaks volumes on how far this community has come,” he wrote.
At the meeting Tuesday, Fuentes recounted his memories of growing up in Washington Heights during the early 1990s, when the neighborhood was dominated by riots, crime and crack.
“My parents were old school Dominicans who abhorred drugs, but it was woven into the fabric of our existence,” he said. “Those were the bad old days. I think 20 years later, almost to the date of those riots, to have a place like La Marina — that to me is progress.”
As for traffic, Fuentes said he welcomes the extra gridlock — because it could mean an influx of money to the neighborhood.
“Traffic is the sound of revenue," he said. "It's the sound of commerce.