C.B. 3 May Change Policy: Early Bird Gets the Beer

wine is hereMichelle Rick

Community Board 3 may reverse its hardline stance against new beer-and-wine licenses in booze-heavy areas of the East Village and Lower East Side. In a letter to residents, the board will ask whether it should be more lenient to those seeking such licenses within resolution areas, so long as the businesses agree to operate primarily in the daytime and close at midnight or earlier.

The move comes just a few months after The Local unleashed a sobering study showing that the State Liquor Authority regularly disregards the board’s recommendations regarding who should or shouldn’t be allowed to serve wine and beer (as opposed to hard liquor) in resolution areas – nightlife-heavy strips such as St. Marks Place where the board has recommended a moratorium on new licenses.

At a meeting of the SLA task force last night, board member David Crane described the motivation behind the potential policy shift. “The SLA generally is going to grant a beer-wine license,” he said. “Since that’s a reality, we’re interested in preventing problems. We want to work with the SLA given that that’s a fact.” 

Screen shot 2012-02-07 at 9.56.32 AMNatalie Rinn C.B. 3’s SLA Policy Task Force

Susan Stetzer, the board’s district manager, said, “The current [SLA] chair approves more of these [beer and wine] licenses than the last chair. So this [letter] is for these current circumstances.”

The letter to residents, which is still being drafted, explains that the exemptions have been proposed to target a two-fold problem: “lack of retail diversity and too many late night noisy businesses.” It reads: “While daytime eating/drinking will not diversify retail, the daytime foot traffic will help create a better potential for daytime retail.” Last month, the board drafted a letter to landlords stressing the importance of daytime businesses.

The community board is also aiming to fight a perception among some that it is unreasonably strict in recommending licenses for denial, especially within the resolution areas that it says are overly congested with drinking establishments. “The [recommended] policy may show SLA good faith and very reasonable effort to promote economic development and be fair to both businesses and residents,” reads the letter.

The move toward leniency comes just a couple of weeks after the board, in a surprising split decision, supported Café Khufu’s application for a beer-and-wine license despite the café’s problematic location. (The cafe isn’t located in a resolution area, but is situated on a residential side street  – another scenario that usually causes the board to oppose a license.) During the debate over that issue, David McWater, a member of the board, cited The Local’s study as proof that recommending a rejection of the license would be futile in the face of the SLA’s relative leniency.

Last night, Mr. Crane said the board was seeking compromise: “When the board says ‘no’ and the SLA says ‘yes, the sky’s the limit,’ that’s the worst possible scenario.”

Residents will be invited to join a discussion of the beer-and-wine exemptions at a meeting on March 28.