Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Lights Out in Gotham

In the current issue of Crain'$ New York the magazine reports on an alarming trend at the State Liquor Authority. It seems that the agency has begun to just about rubber stamp community board objections to new liquor licenses when the application is in an area where three or more licensees are already in place. In the past the Authority has been relatively accommodating in these cases, ruling for the most part that the new application was in the "public interest."

Now, however, a new chair of the agency has, in the words of Crain's, presided over a "dramatic shift" in attitude. As the magazine reports, "In the past, community boards have railed against the agency for approving new liquor licenses over their objections. Not anymore."

What this means is that community boards, never known for pro-business attitudes or an ability to see the larger picture, are being given virtual veto power over the growth of a vital city industry. The early returns are certainly not pretty. As NYNA's Rob Bookman tells Crain's, "We are concerned that the SLA is ceding its authority to a system that is designed to be anti-business..."

What is ominous here is that, "Even retaurateurs with stellar reputations and successful track records are caught in the crossfire of this conflict. Industry officials point to a decision by Community Board 2 to block Chef Daniel Boulud's application for a restaurant liquor license as evidence that neighborhood groups are overreacting."

This is exactly what the industry is afraid of. What is needed here is for the city to come to grips with the conflict between clubs, restaurants and communities. If community boards are allowed to act as zoning barriers to entry the city can kiss good by its city that never sleeps nickname.