Fed up with Fedora, C.B. 2 nixes rear addition

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Sarah Jessica Parker may have endorsed Fedora restaurant’s proposed expansion — but don’t try telling that to Community Board 2.

The Village board Thursday evening voted nearly unanimously to recommend denial of Gabe Stulman’s application for his restaurant to “extend its licensed premises” to the rear yard of the four-story townhouse it’s located in.

In other words, Stulman is seeking an extension of Fedora’s existing liquor license into the backyard addition he hopes to create — so that, along with food, he can serve drinks in the new space, too.

The front entrance of Fedora, on W. Fourth St.

The meeting was in the lower hall at St. Anthony of Padua Church, at Sullivan and Houston Sts.

There was some discussion among C.B. 2 members before their vote, plus members of the public also testified for and against the plan.

Among the deciding factors ultimately swaying the board’s advisory vote was that they could not recommend or deny a liquor license for the new proposed structure — since it does not even exist yet. The board’s resolution also noted that when Stulman first came to the board seeking a liquor license — after he took over the historic restaurant around nine years ago — he said there would not be either a sidewalk cafe or use of the backyard garden.

Today, the restaurant, at 239 W. Fourth St., between Charles and W. 10th Sts., has the feeling of a swank speakeasy and features “refined global fare.”

The previous week, on Thurs., March 14, Parker, the iconic “Sex and the City” actress, spoke in favor of Stulman’s application at a marathon meeting of the C.B. 2 State Liquor Authority Committee, the New York Post’s Page Six reported.

A rendering with a rough massing study showing the size of a planned enclosed rear-yard addition (in gold) for Fedora restaurant.

“My name is Sarah Jessica Parker. I am a longtime, 28-year resident of the West Village. My husband was born and raised in the West Village,” SJP reportedly said while reading from her phone. The star praised Fedora’s food and drink and the operators as “responsible, respectful and hospitable.”

“I am just here to personally support their efforts to continue to grow their business and to be good neighbors and be thoughtful and considerate and listen to everyone,” Parker said then.

Parker was not at this Thursday’s C.B. 2 full-board vote, however.

Stulman initially came before the board in February, saying he planned to extend the restaurant into the backyard for an open-air seasonal-use dining area with seven tables and 17 seats. But neighbors who live in the so-called “residential doughnut” around the restaurant’s rear yard raised an outcry.

A more detailed blueprint-type rendering showing an overhead view of Fedora’s proposed enclosed rear-yard addition’s floor plan, at left, and rooftop (both in gold).

A month later, Stulman returned to C.B. 2 saying he now planned to enclose the rear yard with a one-story “brick and mortar” addition with “one fixed skylight and fixed windows…on the very rear of the structure.” Neighbors say they are already bothered by mechanical systems from the restaurant that are located on a low rooftop right next to the garden.

Fedora’s operating hours are 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. every day.

Making the whole matter harder for C.B. 2 members to decipher, Stulman notably failed to provide any renderings of the planned addition at previous S.L.A. committee meetings. However, before this Thursday night’s full-board vote, a woman went around the room, handing each person a packet of stapled papers with some renderings and floor plans of the proposed new 15-foot-by-20-foot addition.

Testifying before the vote, Stulman claimed strong support from neighbors for the extension.

“In the immediate ‘donut’ surrounding Fedora, we have more support than opposition,” he stated.

Alta Indelman, the architect of the planned add-on, also spoke, vouching, “It’s actually a very short addition. It’s really only about 7 feet 3 inches [high] inside. … It’s what we call, ‘garden level,’” she said of the low-rise structure.

The backyard of Fedora, in a pre-2010 photo, from before Gabe Stulman started operating the restaurant. The buildings surrounding the garden are known as the “residential doughnut.” Stulman has since added mechanical systems (not shown in the photo above) on the low rooftop of Fedora at the rear of the current restaurant, at left.

Indelman said that the place’s capacity — currently, 19 tables with 56 seats, and 12 bar stools — would not change with the extension.

“It’s simply elbow room,” she said, adding the number of staff would not change, either.

When Carter Booth, the C.B. 2 chairperson, criticized Stulman for not having presented any designs of the space at previous meetings, Indelman responded, “These kind of drawings take time.”

Andre Becker, who lives nearby on Washington Place, spoke in favor of Fedora.

“They are the ideal neighbor,” he said. “This is what we moved here for. This is what the Village really is.”

Becker noted that Stulman and his family also live there and that Stulman donates money to allow Christopher Park to “stay in flowers.” Becker is a board member of the association that cares for Christopher Park.

However, Augustine Hope, a neighbor and member of the West Village Home Owners Association, said Stulman “must win trust” from local residents.

“At this point, we do not trust him one inch,” he said.

Hope noted that Stulman also used a subbasement as a private candlelit event space, which he did not have permission to do.

As the discussion went on, Stulman, who sports a signature bushy black beard, sat by himself in the audience in the last row of chairs, focusing intensely on the goings-on. Asked for comment — such as why Parker was not there again for the full-board vote — he said, “I can’t talk about that. I’m super-emotionally invested in this right now.” He provided an e-mail address for a P.R. rep.

Tom Connor, one of the more pro-business members of C.B. 2, said neighbors’ main concern seemed to be that constructing the new addition in the cramped backyard would damage their buildings. Connor recommended “laying over” the issue till next month’s meeting. His idea was seconded by Rocio Sanz, owner of Tio Pepe restaurant, on W. Fourth St., another pro-business member on the board.

Susanna Aaron spoke in favor of Stulman, while admitting that her husband is an investor in his resturants.

“He has five, I think six, restaurants in this neighborhood,” she said. “I think we need to recognize that we need to support our local businesses.”

Sarah Jessica Parker is in Fedora’s corner. (File photo)

However, Kristin Shea, a member of the board’s S.L.A. Committee, said Stulman had, basically, not been forthcoming with details about his plan.

“We asked the same questions we ask of everyone,” she said. “We just wanted facts. Nobody’s questioning his right to do business. It’s not about not supporting what he’s doing now, or not supporting local businesses.”

Had her committee had the Fedora design renderings at their meeting the previous Thursday, it would have saved up to 45 minutes of their time, she said.

Katy Bordonaro, another board member, put it succinctly, saying, “The S.L.A. Committee doesn’t license space that doesn’t exist. We’re sort of licensing a theoretical space — and that’s not something we do.”

C.B. 2 Chairperson Booth, however, said the full board should vote on the committee’s resolution that night, otherwise Stulman might go ahead and apply to the actual license-granting state agency — the S.L.A. — without C.B. 2 having weighed in on the matter. Everyone, even the board’s typically pro-business members, voted to recommend denial of the application, except for Aaron, who recused herself due to her husband’s involvement.

Technically, the actual S.L.A. can vote on a license application without the local community board having given its advisory opinion. But the usual process is that the local board does weigh in first.

Afterward, Stulman got up and grabbed his white umbrella, while flinging a tote bag across his shoulder. Asked for comment, he said tersely, “I don’t understand how that works,” then turned and walked out of the church hall.

Nevertheless, at the same meeting, C.B. 2 unanimously recommended approval for a liquor license for a different Stulman eatery, the new Marlinspike Hall, at the former Great Jones Cafe space, at 54 Great Jones St.

7 Responses to Fed up with Fedora, C.B. 2 nixes rear addition

  1. I don't understand: Isn't that a residential area? If so, why are businesses force-feeding residents and private house owners with their business plans for their own personal $ purpose, instead of going where there are other restaurants, not immediately next to other houses? Slowly and little by little, they want more and more, while at the same time not providing their real plans to the community board in the first place. Poor reason: And just because SJP or her husband has lived in the W.Village has nothing to do with Fedora's hidden plans and purpose.

  2. Yes, I agree completely. It's unprofessional of Gabe Stulman to expect to be treated different than other business owners and take up the community board's time without details of his plan. If he doesn't have permits from the DOB or LPC and was my my neighbor, I would be very, very concerned. I've always thought of him and his restaurants as a plus for the West Village — not so much now.

  3. A liquor license for a place that doesn't exist? Thank you C.B. 2 for not supporting licenses for "castles in the sky."

  4. No backyard extension !!! Leave the residences in the garden in peace.

    Greed and expansion are always in the interest of business, CB2 as well as the S.L.A. They need to back off and keep off every piece of private space. Gardens are meant to be a respite from the busy city life and Greenwich Village is a historical district. I've lived through a nightmare with La Palette formerly at 94 Greenwich Ave. It turned our backyard community into a circus of restaurant people, eating, drinking, getting drunk and getting loud. Using the garden area for private parties and events. (Weddings, birthday parties, singing Happy Birthday all the time, baby showers, etc. Kitchen staff made noise, there were high powering air conditioners and kitchen fans. Rodents and pests moved in too. There was always activities going on, movement you can feel and sense in the garden from the activities in the restaurant. It is an endless stream of commotion with or without any barriers.

    Unfortunately there is no protection to prevent this encroachment. Residents are at the mercy of the community boards. It is bad enough when restaurants don't have a garden they can get their hands on and use of our public space and public sidewalks to crowd our streets with putrid people sitting on chairs at tables for eating and drinking. They obstruct pedestrians/neighbors/residents/visitors/tourists and those who use wheelchairs, canes, baby strollers, shopping wagons and carts. You can barely walk the side walk while patrons sit outside like they own the street.

    How about real concerns about local businesses and saving our supermarkets and other small shops around the Village who are struggling to pay their rent? Never mind pushing their way through walls, windows and doors in order to get more revenue and business. Don't they have enough? Try raising your prices on your menu and liquor sales and leave the garden to the neighbors alone!

    As for the rich and affluent, they are too privileged and self absorbed to consider the real life of real people. Using their status to influence others that causes misery shows how out of touch they are. Clueless.

  5. How is the place allowed to operate since all the customers enter on the residentially zoned side of the lot? The commercial part is closer to the avenue.

  6. The site has been commercial for nearly 100 years as a restaurant. Don't understand why this is so controversial. Hope the expansion goes forward down the road

    • ONLY the interior has been commercially allowed, NOT the rear yard. Please refer to CB2 Executive Board resolutions for February 2019. It stated: "there has never been eating and drinking at the premises in the rear yard." I hope this will help you understand better.

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