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Petition Reignites Debate Of LIC Restaurants' Use of Backyard Space

By Jeanmarie Evelly | May 3, 2014 10:45am | Updated on May 5, 2014 8:55am
 Alobar, at 46-42 Vernon Blvd., can't seat customers in its 18- by 20-foot rear yard, a stipulation requested by CB2 as a condition for a liquor license recommendation.
Alobar, at 46-42 Vernon Blvd., can't seat customers in its 18- by 20-foot rear yard, a stipulation requested by CB2 as a condition for a liquor license recommendation.
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HUNTERS POINT — A petition asking Queens Community Board 2 to loosen restrictions on restaurants' use of their backyards along Vernon Boulevard has reignited a neighborhood debate.

In the past, CB2 had asked several restaurants along the boulevard not to use the their backyards as a condition of recommending their liquor license applications, citing complaints from neighbors about potential noise affecting their quality of life.

But another faction of residents has come out in support of the eateries. Renee Katsaitis, 31, who grew up in the neighborhood, started the online petition last week, which has received more than 500 signatures as of Friday morning. 

Katsaitis said she thinks it's unfair that local businesses should be denied the use of their backyards, particularly those that are willing to compromise by keeping the al fresco dining contained to daytime or early evening hours.

"I'd like to see the businesses around here succeed," she said. "They are struggling, basically — not being able to use that space when people are going elsewhere on a nice, warm 70-degree day. They want to sit outside."

Tom Blaze, a longtime resident, is in the process of opening a by-the-slice pizzeria and charcuterie bar called L'inizio at 47-23 Vernon Blvd.

He'd originally planned to use the yard behind his eatery to plant a garden and add outdoor seating, which would only be used until his 11 p.m. closing time "at the latest," he said.

But after talks with CB2 while applying for his beer and wine license, he agreed to give up the backyard.

"I'm trying to do the right thing by them," he said, but added that he was "extremely disappointed," to lose the space, saying he'd collected signatures of support from many of his neighbors. "I wanted to add something to the community."

CB2 Chair Joe Conley said the board considers each liquor license application individually, and must take several criteria into account for those with rear yards — including such things as zoning and city noise regulations, in addition to feedback from the community.

"The message has been very clear from people that live along Vernon," Conley said. "People have spoken out against Vernon Boulevard use of rear yards because of the noise question, which is clearly an issue not only in CB2, but throughout the city."

At the board meeting Thursday night, several speakers who live near Vernon objected to the petition, saying those who are in favor of rear yards aren't the ones directly affected by the noise.

David Haase lives behind popular eatery Alobar, whose owners had unsuccessfully appealed to have the ban on the use of their backyard space lifted last year.

Haase said the restaurant is allowed to keep its back doors open until 8 p.m., which he sees as a successful compromise — but letting diners into the actual yard would be too much of a disturbance, he says.

"The noise and the hours of operation, for restaurants in particular, enter our lives," Haase said. "When someone drops a fork in the restaurant, they drop a fork in my house."

Katsaitis said she's planning to collect more signatures on her petition, which she wants to present to the State Liquor Authorty and the City Council.

At Thursday's meeting, Patrick O'Brien, who heads the board's committee that oversees liquor license applications, said they planned to continue discussions about the rear yard issue.

"We are going to reexamine and revisit [it], and perhaps come up with some guidelines," he said.