War on C’town eatery’s new door

Gracias Mama wants to open their restaurant at a heavily trafficked intersection. Photo by Amy Russo.

Gracias Mama wants to open their restaurant at a heavily trafficked intersection. Photo by Amy Russo.

BY AMY RUSSO | A coalition of neighborhood advocates has mobilized to stop the placement of a Chinatown restaurant door next to a subway entrance and bus stop — which they believe will threaten pedestrian safety and further crowd the area.

Gracias Mama, a new eatery on the corner of East Broadway and Rutgers St., plans to move its commercial door from East Broadway to Rutgers St. so that it may apply for a liquor license. While on East Broadway, the door was within 200 feet of a nearby church and, by law, too close for the restaurant to gain a liquor license. The door’s new location would make them compliant with the rule.

The coalition of opponents, including L.E.S. Dwellers, Residents of Two Bridges, Orchard St. Block Association and Knickerbocker Village Tenant Association reached out to public agencies, including the M.T.A. and the Department of Buildings (D.O.B.), to block the door’s new location. They have circulated online and paper petitions and hope to get 500 signatures.

“The F train is really our connection to the rest of the city and we just don’t want it to be a major safety issue,” said Christina Zhang of Knickerbocker Tenant Association.

However, the M.T.A. brushed off opposition from locals.

“This is not a situation unique to this business or street or subway entrance,” the agency said in a statement. “We have subway entrances throughout the city, and we have businesses whose entrances are close to those subway entrances, and both have co-existed peacefully. We have visited this particular location and found nothing that raised concerns.”

The coalition also said their cause is receiving little attention from Community Board 3. The board votes on whether to approve the liquor license, not the location of the door, and so has not weighed in on the controversy. However, the coalition argues the relocation of the door is imperative if a license is to be considered — so the issue should be taken up by C.B. 3.

However, the community board did demand Gracias Mama meet stipulations before their liquor license be considered. One required the restaurant to not have a takeout window — which opponents of the door said demonstrates the board is measuring pedestrian traffic concerns for the liquor license application.

Last year, community planning fellow Dylan Dekay-Bemis prepared a Chinatown pedestrian circulation study for the board that identifies mobility issues in the neighborhood.

“While the constriction of effective sidewalk space is certainly a problem for seniors and the mobility impaired, poor circulation is an issue that adversely affects all pedestrians,” the study found.

The study also notes “the amount of activity occurring in the area often creates an environment that is difficult to navigate for pedestrians.”

Gracias Mama will have to move their entrance underneath the red awning, which is right in front of a subway entrance, to be granted a liquor license. Photo by Amy Russo.

Gracias Mama will have to move their entrance underneath the red awning, which is right in front of a subway entrance, to be granted a liquor license. Photo by Amy Russo.

Susan Stetzer, district manager for C.B. 3, said the issue of pedestrian mobility will likely appear on the agenda in September.

However, she said the board “has no knowledge of whether additional traffic would be generated” by relocating the door.

Diem Boyd of L.E.S. Dwellers said the problem is obvious.

“How can there not be any more traffic if you relocate the door and now you’re adding people being dropped off in front of that door?” she asked.

Stetzer confirmed that Gracias Mama agreed to the stipulations for the liquor license. However, the State Liquor Authority makes the final call. The restaurant also needs to get D.O.B. approval to move the door.

The D.O.B. has not received an alteration permit application to allow a relocation of the door. However, the department responded to a 311 complaint in June that stated illegal work was being done to move the restaurant entrance. D.O.B. inspectors made two visits to the building, but could not gain access on either occasion. No violations were issued, because an inspector must witness the illegal work being carried out to warrant a violation.

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