Bogus ‘neighborhood’ issues
- Last Updated: 11:45 AM, March 30, 2012
- Posted: 11:56 PM, March 28, 2012
Does New York City have a future? Not if it’s up to radical leftists and NIMBY types determined to thwart change.
Nowhere is the lunacy more flagrantly displayed than in “community” opposition to a new Greenwich Village restaurant planned by Stephen Starr, one of the country’s most respected eatery owner-operators.
Starr owns three well-regarded New York restaurants among a total of 26 nationally — most in notoriously dull Philadelphia. But his reputation as a highly responsible entrepreneur means nothing in the wacky world of downtown Manhattan activism.
This month, idiots — there’s no polite term — on Community Board 2 shot down Starr’s liquor-license application, leaving the fate of 99 Bank St., former home of the Paris Commune cafe, up in the air.
Sure, it’s only a struggle over a single, small restaurant — but it’s of a piece with Manhattan-wide resistance to various initiatives that would harm no one, and would in most cases benefit their wider communities.
Worthy proposals under siege include NYU’s plan to put up new buildings on its own land in Greenwich Village, and even one merely to designate a stretch of Broadway in Soho as a Business Improvement District.
But the Starr affair epitomizes the madness and warped zealotry that’s come to define the debate over “neighborhood” issues.
Community boards, says the city’s official “Green Book” directory, are supposed to play “an advisory role in zoning and other land-use issues, in community planning, in the city budget process and in the coordination of municipal services.”
How that generalized, “advisory” function evolved into life-or-death power over individual small businesses is a matter for future historians.
But the specifics in Starr’s case are a serious matter in the here-and-now for a businessman who’s invested a fortune in New York, creating thousands of jobs — to say nothing of his contribution to the dining scene.
As at every liquor-serving establishment, his new place had to pass muster with the community board’s license-oversight committee. (The board’s vote is technically “advisory,” but the State Liquor Authority takes it seriously into account.)
In rejecting Starr’s application, CB2 was egged on by local noisemakers who call themselves Residents for Responsible Restaurants in the West Village.
But exactly what was irresponsible about Starr’s proposal?
CB2 opposed it on the grounds it would be a “destination” restaurant — as if the neighborhood were off-limits to those beyond its borders.
The board screamed that Starr owns two huge Manhattan restaurants, Buddakan and Morimoto; they termed his Bank Street plan a Meatpacking District “invasion” of their “residential” district.
Never mind that Starr’s new place would have at most 137 seats (versus Paris Commune’s 106, including bar seating) — compared with 500-plus at the Meatpacking duo.
Never mind that, including a small next-door storefront Starr also leased, it would have 3,300 square feet compared with a total 27,500 at Buddakan and Mirimoto.
Never mind that Starr was tapped by the august New-York Historical Society to run its new on-premises restaurant on Central Park West; even the most rabid Upper West Side obstructionists found no cause to dread a Meatpacking-style “invasion.”
Never mind that co-op apartment owners at 88 Bank St. — the building where Starr’s restaurant would be — turned out at CB2 meetings to support him.
Simply, CB2 hated the idea of Starr moving in . . . just because.
The board members were driven by the same motiveless madness that drove them to vote down a proposal by 4-star restaurateur Daniel Boulud to open a restaurant on the Bowery in 2006, when much of the area was still skid row.
It’s bad enough for “preservationists” to whine like spoiled children over every perceived alteration to their neighborhoods.
It’s worse that our elected officials tolerate the tyranny of bodies like CB2, empowering them in the name of “community input.”
No wonder Starr says he’s considering alternatives for the Bank Street space. Ultimately, he’d be up against not a handful of local nuisances, but restaurant-harassing, fine-imposing City Hall — a battle no eatery owner can win.Follow @NYPostOpinion