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The Drying of NYC: CB Has it In for Union Hall

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Back when Bouley was having problems getting community approval for Brush Stroke, he sent a preemptive PR blitz to all CB1 members prior to the meeting. Following suit, there's some major lobbying going on ahead of the public hearing for Union Hall, the popular Park Slope music venue and bar up for a controversial liquor license renewal next week. This time, the press release comes from the community members who are up in arms about the so-called "public nuisance." It's up to you to decide whether or not these community leaders are bat-shit crazy or if they are simply aggravated neighbors with a worthy complaint. (You can guess which way we're leaning). Here's a snippet from the release, with most of the 1200 word treatment ahead:

"'Since Union Hall opened in June of 2006, those of us who live closest to the bar have found that rooms on the street side of our apartments are unlivable, from early in the evening until 4 and 5 a.m., seven nights a week,' says block resident Laura Jones. 'Beds have been moved away from windows into back kitchens, and young couples with infants are unable to make full use of their living rooms..."
And it goes on...
P R E S S R E L E A S E
April 27, 2008
Community granted liquor license renewal hearing for Union Hall. In an unprecedented move at April’s Community Board 6 meeting, the Executive Committee mandated that a hearing take place at 6:00 pm on Thursday, May 8, at the CB6 offices at 250 Baltic Street. regarding the renewal of the liquor license for Union Hall, a bar residents describe as a public nuisance.

“The owners originally told us that Union Hall would be as much a restaurant as a bar and they were comparing themselves to something more like the Tea Lounge,” says block resident Jon Crow. “What they’ve created is an enormous drinking establishment, performance venue, rock club and late night hot spot that has given many residents sleepless nights and caused others to move away. While it may look like a library from the outside, it’s anything but. Inside it can be so loud, patrons leave the place continuing to party, literally shouting & screaming, at midnight, one, two, three, four and even five o’clock in the morning, seven nights a week. If we lived on a commercial strip, it could be argued we have little grounds to complain. But that’s not the case here.”

"Since Union Hall opened in June of 2006, those of us who live closest to the bar have found that rooms on the street side of our apartments are unlivable, from early in the evening until 4 and 5 a.m., seven nights a week," says block resident Laura Jones. "Beds have been moved away from windows into back kitchens, and young couples with infants are unable to make full use of their living rooms. It's bizarre that long term residents of 20 and 30 years, people who have been the kind of good neighbors who have helped make Park Slope the desirable neighborhood it is today, should be suffering this type of disturbance just because the area has become chic."

Last spring, 75 neighbors signed a letter outlining the problems caused by Union Hall. After numerous individual attempts to work with the bar directly, residents reached out to local authorities to find some solutions. Since that time, several meetings have been held between residents, the bar owners, the 78th precinct, State Liquor Authority, and local state and city officials. The bar’s response to community concerns has at times been honorable, but ultimately unsuccessful. In the first 9 months or so of operation in 2006 & 2007, residents’ concerns were often met with disbelief and indifference as bar owners defended their right to a thriving venture.

More recently, in March of 2008, the owners have begun instituting specific changes to crowd control and outdoor seating hours that have eased some of the noise issue. Although this effort is much appreciated, residents fear that these controls might not be maintained throughout the upcoming busy summer nights...

...Because the Union Hall property was less than 500 ft. from 3 or more establishments with standing full licenses, this triggered the need for a public hearing. In August of 2005, however, the bar entered the wrong community board information on their application and sent their notice of application to CB7 rather than CB6. As a result, neither the local board nor the neighboring community heard the space was to become a bar with live music seven nights a week or that a public hearing was to take place to decide if this venue was an appropriate addition to this particular neighborhood.

Recognizing this situation, Community Board 6 recently decided to redress the error by holding a public hearing to discuss the renewal of Union Hall’s standing license - which expires May 31. What will take place at 250 Baltic Street at 6:00 pm on Thursday, May 8th will be representative of the true public hearing the neighborhood was denied — one that should have given them the chance to voice their objections to the opening of a venue that would change the nature of their residential block. “Other communities within the city are grappling with the same issue” says resident David Smith. “The reality is that residents have little recourse... regardless of the actions of the local community board. The SLA is apparently not empowered to consider ‘quality of life’ issues when handing out its approvals.” In fact, State liquor authorities have stated that this “public hearing” will have little effect on their renewal decision, since
approvals currently are based solely on legal status rather than on any adverse affect the establishment has had on the community.

Residents have realized from the beginning that the cards were stacked high against them, but insist they’ll do all they can to see that this never happens to any of their neighbors. “We’re aware that that’s not an easy goal,” says Kelser. “Just last week CB6 approved the full liquor license for a new establishment on quiet Hoyt Street at Union. Watching that contentious approval was unfortunately probably not unlike what the response would have been in 2005 when Union Hall presented their plans to the State, had there been a hearing at that time...

...The community is further encouraged that the current State administration, bolstered by reforms, is waking up to their role in this situation by carefully weighing the policy changes that are needed. Both the Governor’s office and State legislators are seeking bills to further ensure that local commercial ventures aren’t approved at the cost of livable neighborhoods.

On the City level, commercial zoning laws will need to better address usage to ensure that the approval “bar” is raised high when a new full liquor license is being considered.

· The Drying of NYC: Bouley Lobbying the Community Board [~E~]

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