City must have a seat on the S.L.A., bill says

State Senator Brad Hoylman’s bill would require that at least one commissioner on the State Liquor Authority be a New York City resident.

BY REBECCA FIORE | With a vacant seat on the State Liquor Authority board, state Senator Brad Hoylman has introduced a bill in the state Senate requiring at least one member of the board be a New York City resident.

Hoylman penned a joint letter with Assemblymember Deborah Glick on Jan. 3 urging Governor Andrew Cuomo to appoint someone who lives in the five boroughs, since the city “has the largest concentration of S.L.A.-licensed businesses in New York State,” the letter reads.

The S.L.A. has two commissioners and one chairperson, all appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.

The current chairperson, appointed in June 2015, is Vincent Bradley, a native and resident of Ulster County, in Upstate New York. The sole current S.L.A. commissioner, Greeley Ford, was confirmed June 2016, and lives in Camden, just outside Syracuse.

A spokesperson for the S.L.A. board noted that Chairperson Bradley previously lived and worked in New York City for well more than a decade and still owns an apartment in Manhattan.

Hoylman’s bill was introduced in March 2017 — nearly seven months after S.L.A. Commissioner Kevin Kim, who served on Manhattan’s Community Board 5 from 2010 to 2011, stepped down after completing a two-year term. Terms are normally three years, but Kim was completing the previous commissioner’s term. When the time came, he chose not to be reappointed.

Kim lived in Manhattan during his time on the S.L.A. board.

“In general, we have never had a vacancy in recent years for this law. We never, in my memory, didn’t have a New York City representative,” Hoylman said. “So, it’s a double whammy for residents in our neighborhoods with an S.L.A. seat vacant. That’s a burden on the S.L.A. itself.”

Hoylman said he believes having a commissioner from the city brings a better perspective to the unique problems that arise in neighborhoods with high concentrations of restaurants and bars.

“The idea has been generated by the fact that more than half of the state’s 3,000-plus license applications originated in New York City,” Hoylman said. “It makes sense that this very important authority have at least one city resident who understands our neighborhoods from a first-person perspective.”

Glick said she feels Bradley hasn’t been as understanding as previous S.L.A. chairpersons.

“The new chairperson seems quite indifferent to neighborhood concerns, and that’s why we would like to request a meeting, but also would like the governor to appoint someone who comes from New York City,” Glick said.

She added that while the vacant seat would ideally be filled with someone from Manhattan, a person from a densely populated neighborhood in another borough would also be welcomed. She cited Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for example.

Establishments apply for a liquor license and must give the local community board a 30-day notice. The board has the applicant fill out a stipulation form, including how big the place will be, the level of music, hours, whether there will be outdoor seating and so on. The board meets with the applicant, and encourages them to meet with appropriate block associations or co-op boards and tries to come up with an agreement, after which the board sends an advisory letter of recommendation or denial to the S.L.A.

Diem Boyd, head of the Lower East Sider Dwellers, a community group focused on quality-of-life issues caused by the excessive number of bars in the so-called “Hell Square” neighborhood, said she has seen times when a community board votes No on a new establishment, but the S.L.A. grants a license anyway.

“It’s almost like deaf ears at the S.L.A. right now,” she said. “Community boards have their hands tied. They are being forced to approve licenses — fearful that the  S.L.A. won’t uphold their recommendation to deny.”

Boyd thinks Hoylman’s bill would “bring back balance to the board,” similar to when Kim was its commissioner. She noted that since Kim had community board experience in Manhattan, he knew what questions to ask prospective establishments.

“He was a real asset,” she said. “Unfortunately, a lot of policies are made in Albany. A lot of the policies are made upstate. And there’s a deep impact Downstate in New York City. When you don’t live in New York, you don’t realize the impact of a license in a small neighborhood.”

She said another bar in an already oversaturated area like Hell Square only adds to the Dwellers’ laundry list of problems between forcing residents to be holed up in their homes all night long, trying to avoid the noise, chaos on the streets and constant infestations of rats and trash.

“The neighborhood is unlivable,” she said. “People are screaming, music is blasting out of clubs, and cars and taxis are honking. No one factors in what these problems are to the community. We need that voice for us.”

Liquor license applicants, Hoylman noted, are often small business owners whose workers and families are “people trying to make it.”

“There are more license holders than ever in New York City and that’s a good thing, generally speaking,” he said. “We have a vibrant local economy, as a result. For the most part, license holders respect their neighbors, but there’s a lot of work to be done. The commission should have its full members to make sure they can do the job.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *