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Proposed Yearlong Ban on Inwood Liquor Licenses Gets Initial OK From Board

By Carolina Pichardo | December 10, 2015 2:42pm
 A map of the proposed moratorium area.
A map of the proposed moratorium area.
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Adriano Espaillat

INWOOD — A proposed yearlong ban on new liquor licenses in Inwood got the green light from the local community board Tuesday night after the local politician pushing the plan unveiled legislation aimed at stanching the flow of establishments selling booze in the neighborhood.   

Community Board 12 passed a resolution Tuesday showing support for state Sen. Adriano Espaillat’s proposed moratorium, which requests a yearlong freeze on the granting of new liquor licenses in Inwood. 

The board's executive committee took an initial vote on the plan before it heads to the full board “because of the magnitude of the decision of a moratorium," which shouldn’t fall solely on the committee that handles liquor license applications, CB 12 chairman George Fernandez said.

 State Sen. Adriano Espaillat presented his proposal to Community Board 12 on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015.
State Sen. Adriano Espaillat presented his proposal to Community Board 12 on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015.
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DNAinfo/Carolina Pichardo

Espaillat, who shared his goals for the moratorium at the previous executive committee meeting, presented the actual draft of his legislation Tuesday after questions arose regarding its viability.

The moratorium proposal came as a result of the increase of new on-premises liquor licenses, which have more than doubled in Inwood since 2012, Espaillat's office said. 

Jacob Potent, the senator's director of communications, told DNAinfo that the goal of the moratorium is to give the community a chance to review noise and quality-of-life issues, and solve them in a constructive way.

The planned legislation, which would not affect a current business’ liquor license or the transfer of a license at the same address, could conceivably apply to all residential neighborhoods in New York City, Espaillat said at the meeting.

Although the SLA cannot ban liquor licenses within an individual neighborhood, the senator said laws in Albany are often created and applied to specific areas "all the time."

A draft of the bill described these applicable neighborhoods as "a geographic area within a municipality that is recognized by the residents thereof as including a unique community of interests."

For Inwood, the area in question is the residential region that spans from Hillside Avenue through 10th Avenue to the tip of Northern Manhattan, according to Espaillat.

The current liquor-license application model demands that businesses notify their community boards of their intention to apply for an on-premises liquor licenses 30 days prior to applying to the SLA. 

The board then reviews the application and makes a recommendation to the authority whether to deny or grant a license. If the board denies a license, the SLA hears the application at a public meeting, which elected officials and interested residents are encouraged to attend. At this meeting, written testimonies and comments are also reviewed and become part of the licensing file, the SLA said.

“The community board has denied liquor licenses that the SLA has overturned,” said board member Osi Kaminer, noting that Espaillat himself recently wrote to the SLA in support of a license for a restaurant at 160 Dyckman St., which the board had recommended denying during its June 23 meeting.

“I supported that particular application,” Espaillat admitted, “but I think forthwith we should oppose all of them.”

According to the senator, if the board recommends denying any new liquor licenses in the coming months before the legislation can be approved, it will send a strong message to the SLA.

“We have a good shot at asking the State Liquor Authority to give a thumbs down to any future, new liquor license applications," he said.

Aldermar Diaz, chairman of the board's licensing committee, said that when CB 12 approached the SLA's deputy CEO last year to discuss the possibility of a moratorium in the neighborhood, the answer the board received "wasn’t positive,” since it’s not legally possible.

Espaillat said he recently spoke to the chairman of the SLA, who conveyed to him that any recommendation coming from the offices of the state senator, assembly member and the community board would be strongly considered.

“So the benefit of this bill, as I see it, is [the SLA] will have to impose the moratorium if all three parties opt into it?” board member Steve Simon asked at the meeting.

“That’s correct,” Espaillat responded.

A rep for the SLA said the authority wouldn't speculate on the chances of whether or not a particular piece of legislation would pass.

Board members also recommended several amendments to the legislation prior to voting 12-0, with one abstention, in favor of it.

These included allowing the board to define "saturation," since the language in the draft legislation only mentions neighborhoods having double the number of liquor licenses over a three-year period. The board also wants to enforce a 2 a.m. closing time on any new, on-premises liquor license applications after the moratorium wraps up. 

In the meantime, Espaillat wants the board to reject any new liquor licenses starting in January, when he plans to introduce the legislation, until the bill passes. However, some board members were concerned with that date, saying that since most of the applications CB 12 reviews in January are from businesses that submitted them in late 2015.

Espaillat said community leaders from other neighborhoods, including the Lower East Side, have already expressed an interest in the proposed legislation.

“Any community will be able to approach this, if they’re facing the same adversity in their own neighborhood," he said.

The senator said that if the law is passed, he will look at other neighborhoods within his district, such as Hamilton Heights and Washington Heights, to see if they could also benefit from a licensing freeze.

"We're breaking grounds here," Espaillat said, "not just for this community, but for the whole city." 

The board will present the final resolution for the moratorium during CB 12's full board meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 22, at 7 p.m. at the Alianza Dominican Cultural Center, Triangle Building, 530 W. 166th St..