Saturday, June 02, 2007

The 64-Dollar Question

As a kid, $64 dollars actually was quite a lot of money. If you had that much money you got a lot of respect. Of course, that was before the Dollar slid into the abyss of multiple wars, from Kennedy's foray into Vietnam, to Johnson's War as a follow-up, to Reagan's Arms race designed to bankrupt the Soviet Empire and winding up with Bush's "Nation Building" in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, we have been prolific and have been revving up those printing presses for nearly fifty years. Now, gas is nearly $4 a gallon.

But, again, $64 dollars once meant something. And, the phrase, "The $64 dollar question" came to mean a tantalizing question referring to, as yet, unknown information. So, here's the $64 question that the community is pondering:

Among the activists who spent a lot of their time making their wishes known about the over saturation of liquor licenses, where do they stand with the new Community Board #2 which is about to take office in June?

For several years, the Business Committee was headed by Bob Rinaolo, who himself had two liquor licenses in at least as many restaurant/bars in Greenwich Village. There was controversy and charges of conflict of interest and eventually Borough President Fields ruled that he should step down as Chair of that committee. Eventually, he did. But, he remained on the committee and many of the members of the committee remained with him - so that, in fact, nothing had changed.

Interestingly enough, one of the applicants that came before his committee when he was Chair was the controversial applicant known as "Lola." Despite the fact that Rinaolo appeared to have never met a bar he didn't like, he approved the license at committee level but did not fight its denial at the Full Board because he felt that he had been lied to by the applicant - especially, when it came to the issue of live music in an outdoor area behind some very expensive condos in SoHo.

After many twists and turns of the legal system and two and a half years later, Lola is about to open. This, despite a Herculean effort on the part of the community in SoHo, despite the rejection by the Community Board, and despite the tens of thousands of dollars expended in stopping just one bar from opening in an area saturated with bars. While the legal effort is not completely over, it seems likely that Lola will open - with or without live music. In front of Judge Marilyn Sheafer, Lola's lawyer, Eric Sherman, assured that judge that if the application went back in front of the Community Board - there would be no problem in getting a resolution supporting their efforts.

Now, the $64 dollar question for those in the community who have fought the over saturation of bars, held Town Hall meetings to educate the new S.L.A. about this issue and lobbied for meaningful changes at the Community Board - is this: Why did Mr. Sherman state, in front of a sitting judge, on the record, that he could easily and quickly get a resolution passed supporting the Lola application? Especially, now, after such efforts by residents to curtail new licenses?

Is it possible that Brad Hoylman's (pictured left) choice to run the Business Committee - Ray Lee - an appointee of Maria Derr and Bob Rinaolo, a friend of the Chamber of Commerce influences that still hail from the Virginia Fields days - is known as someone who will be helpful? The fact that Lee is a holdover from the pre-reform days when the Business Committee ran roughshod over the wishes of residents and then was made Chair of that committee, is not relaxing activists. In fact, some of his methods of settling disagreements in committee are to tell residents who object to an applicant in their neighborhood to "work it out" is contradictory to Board policy. It's not the job of the Chair to let others do the work - especially, to put residents in the position of having to negotiate their objections with an applicant. The Community Board has an obligation to protect the community.

The other, potentially disturbing, aspect of Lee as Chair of Business committee is that he Is likely part of the "negotiation" spearheaded by Arthur Schwartz(pictured left), the new phoenix of the downtown political junkies and Ray Cline's man at VRDC. All of the Rinaolo/Derr people moved over to VRDC two years ago in order to take over a political party that would accept heavy donations with open arms. Having won State Committeeman, in spite of the antipathy of the Glick/Quinn/Duane preference for Larry Moss - Schwartz is rumored to have made the kind of deal that is reminiscent of a scene from The Godfather by making Hoylman an offer he couldn't refuse. That's Schwartz for Waterfront, Phil Mouquinho for Vice Chair of Zoning, and retains Ray Lee on Business. If not, the rumor goes, Schwartz would run for District Leader (which Hoylman recently took away from Schwartz) and VRDC would not support Hoylman for City Council two years from now. (Not that Hoylman should really believe that, if it were offered.)

So, after years of trying to clean up the inside deals on the Business Committee, restructuring the S.L.A. and reforming the Board - we still potentially have the same crew operating the show. The $64 dollar question is this: Did Mr. Sherman know what he was saying in front of Judge Schaefer? Is there an inside track to liquor license approvals on Community Board #2?

Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) has been one, among several, who have been in the forefront of the battle to change zoning downtown so that it reflects the history and wishes of the community -- not only the Empire building aspirations of Bloomberg and Doctoroff. The most egregious example of the need for such change has been the Trump SoHo development which is now proceeding. The community in Hudson Square, where Trump SoHo will be built has been very antagonistic towards this unwanted invasion of a 45-story building. Legal action is in its early stages of discussion and planning and it proves to be an interesting fight.

The essence of this issue is, of course, the need to change zoning in Hudson Square and parts of SoHo so that it reflects the surrounding area - in short, a change to contextual zoning. It has been discussed for ten years and it has been continuously -- well, discussed. Only now, after the situation has become clearly dire, discussion is no longer enough.

What is disturbing is the fact that awareness of or interest in the problem is non-existent at the Mayor's Office and is just now getting attention at Speaker Quinn's office. At City Planning, however, they believe that things are quite satisfactory as they are. Andrew Berman recently received a letter explaining that nothing further needs to be done.

So, the $64 dollar question is this: Will the Electeds act to quickly change the zoning or will we have to litigate the 30, 40 and 50 story buildings that threaten to destroy our neighborhoods disguised at "condo-hotels?"

No comments: