Renowned chef and restaurateur David Bouley's plans to open a new high-end restaurant have hit a speed bump that could add him to a growing list of entrepreneurs walking away from restaurant and bar projects in Manhattan.
The committee that represents TriBeca for Community Board 1 last night voted 6–4 to oppose the New York State Liquor Authority providing Mr. Bouley with a liquor license for the Japanese eatery he wants to open at 111 West Broadway, Brushstrokes.
One board member, Julie Nadel, read aloud from several newspaper articles chronicling Mr. Bouley's run-ins with the health department, a lawsuit involving his insurance company, and two dangerous carbon monoxide leaks discovered within a month at one of his celebrated TriBeCa restaurants. Later, supporters of Mr. Bouley painted a different picture, describing a man of high character with a penchant for charity, who cooked for workers at ground zero after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and continues to attract dollars to the neighborhood. Before the vote, board member Laura Braddock spoke on Mr. Bouley's behalf, saying she felt as if some of the board members had a personal agenda.
"I get the sense there is something really nasty going on here, " she said.
Mr. Bouley will have another opportunity to garner support from Community Board 1 at a full board meeting March 25.
The decision underscores mounting concerns among advocates and lawyers for the nightlife and restaurant industries that some community boards in Manhattan are wielding an excessive amount of influence over the State Liquor Authority's decision-making regarding liquor licenses, an issue they say is stymieing economic development.
Several lawyers who specialize in liquor issues said that without the support of certain Manhattan community boards, they advise their clients to dismiss any plans of opening up bars or lounges. They tell clients who want to start restaurants that would serve cocktails to beware of exposing themselves financially.
"Some community boards just don't want new places," a liquor lawyer, Terrence Flynn, said. "There has been a real chilling effect."
A lobbyist for the New York City Nightlife Association, Robert Bookman, said that due to the difficulties entrepreneurs are facing in attempting to obtain liquor licenses, the city is likely losing out on millions of dollars in investments and the corresponding tax dollars.
Like Mr. Bouley, most entrepreneurs opening bars and restaurants in the city are saddled by what is known as the "500-foot law," a regulation that requires applicants within 500 feet of three establishments that serve liquor to demonstrate to authorities both the convenience and advantage their establishment will present for the public.
For guidance purposes, the liquor authority is expected to look to community boards for recommendations. In the past, the liquor authority often granted licenses even if applicants didn't have the board's blessing.
However, following recent changes in leadership and an effort within the past two years to revamp the authority, officials have increasingly sided with community board decisions and recommendations, several people on both sides of the issue said.
"Up until about two years ago, the 500-foot law was ignored," Susan Stetzer, the district manager for Community Board 3, which encompasses the Lower East Side, the East Village, and Chinatown, said.
Ms. Setzer, whose board is described by many as the toughest in the city, said more liquor licenses are approved than denied in her district.
The number of liquor license applications that have been shot down across Manhattan has significantly dropped since 2002, statistics show, a downward trend that several lawyers said is misleading. They argue that while the numbers suggest the authority has become more lenient, they actually illustrate that fewer are attempting to obtain licenses due the cumbersome and risky process.
A spokesman for the state liquor authority, William Crowley, said the authority approaches liquor licenses on a case-by-case basis and follows the laws as they are written.
In a move that some lawyers said is creating an unfair playing ground, community boards have increasingly instituted conditions for those who obtain liquor licenses, such as earlier closing times than mandated by the law.
Ms. Setzer said that while her board is requiring certain operating hours more often, it has been part of the process for years, and she said many applicants don't need to be open late.