For residents of Corona and Jackson Heights, two neighborhoods afflicted with a surplus of noisy and sometimes dangerous bars, the question last week was whether to hold new bar owners accountable for the trespasses of past management.
Wilson Espin, of Richmond Hill, said he didn’t know before he bought the venue about the police citations, noise issues and drunken displays at the bar that years ago occupied 91-13 31 Ave. in Jackson Heights.
“This guy was hoodwinked,” Community Board 3 member Arturo Ignacio Sanchez said at a meeting on Jan. 16.
Espin is a soft-spoken man originally from Ecuador who helps manage the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s computers. He bought the establishment in the residential neighborhood in the hopes to turn it into Wilson Espin Bar, a place with a jukebox and televisions to watch soccer games, he said. That is, if the State Liquor Authority approves his liquor license. He does not plan to run the day-to-day operations of the bar, but will be handing that task over to his brother.
For four months Espin has paid rent on the empty establishment. If the SLA grants Espin a liquor license, he hopes he can make enough profit to build a kitchen and turn the establishment into an Ecuadorian restaurant that specializes in ceviche.
“I started this process in August,” he said.
CB 3 split its vote for and against recommending a liquor license for Wilson Espin Bar, 16-16.
“This will go to the SLA as a tie,” chairwoman Marta Lebreton said.
This is the first time the board has split its vote, secretary Edmund Rosenbaum said.
“He’s a professional. I have known him for years,” member Norma Jimenez said. “You can’t judge him for what others did.”
“It’s not the particular establishment,” said member Shanel Thomas, who said she has worked with bar owners in Washington, DC. “It’s not fair to judge the new owner.”
First Vice Chairman Stephen Kulhanek disagreed.
“My feeling from walking the block is against granting a liquor license. There are three convenience stores that sell wine and beer and another bar with a pending liquor license on the block,” Kulhanek said. “I feel this would cause an undue hardship.”
“He doesn’t have experience. He admits it,” member Vasantrai Gandhi said. “I don’t recommend it.”
Lebreton read a letter from a homeowner who said that two years ago, when she gathered signatures against the former bar, it was causing “insanity in the street.” The writer, who could not attend the meeting, cited noise and safety issues, adding she bought security cameras for her home because of the bar.
The Police Department also sent a letter stating they had no concerns about the new owner, but opposes a new bar at the location. The NYPD gives recommendations about all SLA applications and sends an officer to board committee meetings, which review the initial documents.
Nevertheless, those letters were the only voices of opposition from nonboard members, despite the CB going door to door and sending its usual mailings, according to District Manager Giovanna Reid.
Member Caridad Mak said she visited neighbors and reported back that they are all seniors and have a hard time attending the meetings. Additionally, some residents said they feared retaliation.
Not all members thought those were legitimate excuses. “It worries me that some of the nonseniors didn’t come here tonight,” a board member said, adding that if the bar concerned them, they should attend the meeting.
There are 361 liquor licenses in the 115th Precinct. Corona has the second most liquor, beer and wine dispensaries in the city, just after Midtown Manhattan, according to Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights).
For the past year CB 3 and CB 4, which neighbors CB 3 in Corona and East Elmhurst, have been vigilant with researching liquor licenses in an effort to give the SLA information about spots that are good neighbors and those that are not. CB 3 hosted a town hall last year with SLA Chairman Dennis Rosen in an effort to see what else the board could do to mitigate the quality-of-life issues that have proliferated in connection to rowdy watering holes.
On Wednesday night the panel unanimously approved a liquor license application for Tawa Tandoor. The restaurant has no history of problems, according to the board.