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Locals, Officials Say Changes to Liquor Laws Made Without Transparency

By Allegra Hobbs | June 3, 2016 5:41pm | Updated on June 6, 2016 8:48am
 Community Board 3 Chairwoman Gigi Li joined a host of community members and elected officials Friday to demand a voice in the governor's Alcohol Beverage Control Law Working Group.
Community Board 3 Chairwoman Gigi Li joined a host of community members and elected officials Friday to demand a voice in the governor's Alcohol Beverage Control Law Working Group.
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DNAinfo/Allegra Hobbs

MANHATTAN — Community members and local politicians claim Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office drafted changes to the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control Law that could bring more booze to the city — without adequately consulting representatives of communities already drowning in liquor licenses.

The governor’s office has assembled an Alcohol Beverage Control Law Working Group— mostly comprised of food and beverage industry representatives — which in April pitched recommendations to “modernize” the state’s booze laws by removing 80-year-old restrictions it says are arcane and harmful to businesses. 

But community boards and elected officials — who gathered on the steps of City Hall Friday — say the group sorely lacks representation from city neighborhoods most impacted by alcohol laws, and are demanding to be included in additional meetings before the recommendations become final.

“Many residents of the Lower East Side struggle every day with their quality of life," said Chairwoman Gigi Li of Community Board 3, which in April passed a resolution to oppose liquor saturation. "Community boards want to feel engaged and represented in any process that modifies the State's Alcohol Beverage Control Law."

The working group includes only one member of a community board — District Manager Ebenezer Smith of Washington Heights and Inwood’s Community Board 12 — while the other members are mostly stakeholders in breweries and other beverage distributors as well as lawyers.

The working group’s recommendations, made publicly available in April in a 43-page document via the governor’s website, include consolidating the nine types of licenses currently issued by the State Liquor Authority into three — wine, wine and beer, and full liquor licenses — and simplifying the process of acquiring a manufacturing license to remove bureaucratic restrictions burdening craft manufacturers. 

The governor’s office says these changes were made in an effort to update policies that were first enacted after the lifting of Prohibition in 1934, and are now outdated and burdensome to business owners. 

But the recommendations also include changes that members of liquor-soaked communities such as the Lower East Side fear could make it easier for incoming businesses to acquire licenses — one amendment would loosen restrictions currently imposed by the so-called 200 Foot Law, which prohibits the issuing of a license to an establishment on the same street and within 200 feet of a school or house of worship.

The amendment would only apply to restaurants, not to bars, and would still require notice be given to the school or house of worship, as well as local elected officials, to let each weigh in before a license is issued. But reps remain fearful of any modification to the law, which they say is one of the last remaining protections against liquor saturation.

“The existing 200-foot rule…is the only measure through which oversaturated communities get relief from even more applications,” said Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, who represents Greenwich Village and Soho.

The governor’s office says the stakeholders in the working group, equipped with “far-reaching expertise” on the issues, came up with a set of recommendations that will be beneficial for businesses previously burdened by outdated laws.

“The legislation brought forward was the product of extensive and thorough review, and will not only modernize these outdated and arcane laws, but also increase opportunities for businesses to grow and thrive,” said spokeswoman Abbey Fashouer.

The governor’s office further said it remains open to suggestions and welcomes input from community boards.

A representative for the governor’s office said the recommendations are slated to become law by the end of the current legislative session on June 16.