Residents asked the State Liquor Authority and the 115th Precinct about the amount of liquor vendors, liquor license violations and drunken behavior in Jackson Heights, Corona and East Elmhurst at Monday night’s Community Board 3-sponsored town hall.
About 70 community members and restaurant owners attended
“I think it’s a problem that there is no [municipal] statute in place to say that only a certain amount of liquor licenses can be in a certain area,” resident and former board chair Mary Vavruska said.
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).
However, SLA Chairman Dennis Rosen said the state’s hands can be tied when it comes to saturation.
There is due process, he said.
A license can be rejected if the location sits within 500 feet of another liquor vendor or has several violations. Therefore if the applicant does not violate any rule it’s hard for the liquor authority to reject him or her — unless the owner can be proven as unfit — Rosen said.
“We don’t use a formula [to determine how many liquor vendors can be in the area], and I don’t think it would be legal,” he said.
However, some venues are in violation of the 500-foot rule, said Moya during a later phone interview. Moya is proposing legislation that would give community boards the opportunity to bring violations and concerns to the SLA’s attention.
Under current law, community boards must be notified by the State Liquor Authority about liquor license applications within 30 days after they are received. Moya and state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) say that’s not enough time.
The duo has introduced legislation that would increase that period to 60 days as well as provide community boards with a liaison responsible for communications between the board and the SLA.
“This is just asking for more time to see who is doing the right thing and those who are not,” Moya said.
Rosen said at the town hall that 60 days is too much time. The board should email the SLA if it needs more time, he said. A blanket law should not be in place to slow down the process for all, Rosen said.
“I’ve never seen that [an email] work,” Moya said.
“We are overwhelmed with the amount of stores, bars, restaurants, mini bakeries and convenience stores; it’s every store,” Community Board 4 Public Safety Committee Leader Lucy Schilero said during a previous interview. “It’s just amazing how many locations want this. We are saturated with many people that are inebriated. We see people fighting, urinating and vomiting.”
“It’s a quality of life issue,” Moya said.
“Most of the places are good in the 115,” Deputy Inspector Thomas Kavanagh said at the town hall; however, there are some issues he continued.
The two main offenses in Corona and Jackson Heights are unlicensed cabarets and selling liquor to minors, according to Rosen. Kavanagh added drugs and after-hours sales to the list.
“Maybe Joey deals drugs out of the bathroom,” said Kavanagh. “Your negligence leads us to the bar. If you are passively allowing them to be in your bar that’s no good.”
This activity often attracts violence, he added.
One example he gave of bar violence occurred over the weekend. A bar-goer was stabbed. The person said he was stabbed at 3:30 a.m., but did not report the incident until after 5 a.m. Kavanagh said the bar was probably covering up after-hours activity.
The many bars provide places for the neighborhood’s large immigrant community to hang out with people who speak their language and share the same cultural background, said Moya.
“But there has to be regulation,” said Moya.
CB 3 member Arturo Ignacio Sanchez asked how the SLA was communicating regulations to bar owners who don’t speak English.
“CB 3 and CB 4 are linguistically diverse and constantly changing communities,” said Sanchez.
The SLA has reached out to Hispanic business groups in Manhattan and in a few months will have applications available in about a half-dozen languages, according to Rosen.
“ Just because you don’t know the language it’s not an excuse,” said a Hispanic man at the town hall who was in the process of applying for a cabaret license.
A cabaret is a business that allows dancing and has live music. Cabarets are allowed in places mostly zoned for industrial use.
“If you are a cabaret you are attracting a whole different crowd,” said Rosen.
The first two times a bar violates the law it will receive a fine, Rosen said. A following violation could result in the revoking of the location’s liquor license.
The last main issue troubling the area is bars facilitating underage drinking.
In New York City the SLA has conducted stings looking for sales to minors at 253 locations this year. Out of those about half were in violation, Rosen said.
The SLA’s stings allow the underage volunteers to lie about their age, which is different from those conducted by the Police Department.
“I want them to act like any other kid trying to get a beer,” said Rosen. “You must take their ID, not just their word.”