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Fifth Avenue Restaurant's Application for Sidewalk Cafe Rankles Neighbors

By Danielle Tcholakian | September 23, 2014 11:41am | Updated on September 23, 2014 5:44pm
 Claudette, at 24 Fifth Ave., applied for a permit for a sidewalk café after promising the community board they wouldn't have one in order to get liquor license approval.
Claudette, at 24 Fifth Ave., applied for a permit for a sidewalk café after promising the community board they wouldn't have one in order to get liquor license approval.
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DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian

GREENWICH VILLAGE — Neighbors of an acclaimed Fifth Avenue restaurant are fighting its push to get a sidewalk café permit — saying the eatery's owners promised not to apply for one when it opened last year.

Claudette has been reviewed favorably by The New York Times since opening earlier this year at 24 Fifth Ave. But tenants of a condo across the street are angry the proprietor broke his promise to keep the sidewalk clear — instead successfully petitioning the Department of Consumer Affairs for a permit.

"How can an applicant go before the community board and say one thing, and then just a few months later do exactly the opposite?" said Neil Ritter, one of the residents at 25 Fifth Avenue Condominiums who have hired a lawyer to help them fight the permit effort.

In 2013, Claudette owner Carlos Suarez signed a list of stipulations that included “there is no sidewalk cafe (current enclosed sidewalk cafe will be removed)" and “the applicant agreed to... not use any backyard garden space or sidewalk cafe,” according to Community Board 2's Oct. 16, 2013 letter to the State Liquor Authority supporting the restaurant's application to serve alcohol.

But less than a year later, Claudette applied to the Department of Consumer Affairs asking for a unenclosed sidewalk cafe permit. The DCA said the permit was for a location where there was a grandfathered, enclosed sidewalk café since about 1971, prior to the resolution that made the area zoned for strictly residential purposes.

The DCA approved the permit on July 2, a restaurant manager said. They said their decision was based on information provided by the Department of City Planning, which convinced them the enclosed sidewalk's grandfathered status would apply to an unenclosed sidewalk café at that location.

DCA did not say whether Claudette's owners told them the restaurant's liquor license was conditional on not having outdoor seating. Councilwoman Rosie Mendez said she asked the restaurant's owner if he had told them and he told her that he had not.

Claudette's public relations firm and management team also did not respond when asked whether the owner told the DCA about the liquor license stipulation when he filed his application.

In a statement, they said they had intended to remove the enclosed sidewalk café because it was an eyesore, and when they applied to the Community Board for liquor license approval, they didn't know that having an unenclosed sidewalk café was a possibility "and were therefore not planning to apply for it."

"The team is thrilled with the positive response from their neighbors, has the utmost respect for their Greenwich Village community and looks forward to continuing to serve the neighborhood," the statement concluded.

The City Council approved the petition on Sept. 23 with a near-unanimous vote: Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, whose district the condo owners reside in, voted against it, and Councilman Vincent Gentile, abstained from voting, just as he did in the Land Use Committee meeting last week.

In an interview after the Land Use Committee hearing, Gentile said he believed the restaurant owners were being disingenuous in not disclosing to the DCA that they had promised CB 2 they would not have outdoor seating before applying for the sidewalk café permit.

"It appears, from what I can discern, that we’re dealing with bad actors here," Gentile said. "I don’t think we, as the City Council, should be rewarding bad actors with permits that they may not have been qualified for."

Ritter said the 25 Fifth Avenue Condominiums board is in talks with the tenants of 33 Fifth Avenue, and that they are "considering all options, including taking appropriate legal action."

"It’s a matter that the boards of 25 Fifth and 33 Fifth are going to consult together on," Ritter said. "We’re seriously considering that alternative."