Debate Over Backdoor Space Continues In LIC

BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
Staff Writer

As Long Island City seeks to expand and develop, conflicts are arising among residents over how the neighborhood can redefine itself.

One aspect of this conflict is playing out on Vernon Boulevard, where a group of residents are petitioning for restaurants’ right to use their outdoor backyard space.

When considering applications for liquor licenses, CB2 takes into account zoning, noise violations, potential noise problems and concerns from neighboring residents. At the CB2 monthly meeting last week, Chairman Joe Conley stated that the board prioritizes the concerns of residents who live in close proximity to the establishments in question.

“We take each application and listen to the people affected by those applications,” Conley said.
The online petition, started in late April by lifelong Long Island City resident Renee Katsaitis, calls for CB2 to “ease up on liquor license and outdoor space restrictions.”

Katsaitis grew up on 49th Avenue, between Vernon Boulevard and Jackson Avenue. For her, commercial use of backyard space is a function of the neighborhood’s development.

“There’s nothing that you can do to stop trends and change,” she said. “I do welcome change. I like seeing new places pop up and new places to go. I think business owners have really good ideas [for the neighborhood.]”

Katsaitis believes that restricting the use of outdoor space is an impediment to local business. Jeff Blath is the owner of Alobar, a restaurant on Vernon Boulevard. CB2 denied his bid for outdoor seating last year, which Blath has since stated was detrimental to business throughout the summer.

Blath said that he began taking a tally of customers who left during his Saturday and Sunday brunch hours when they heard that he did not have outdoor seating available. He said that the tally was averaging about 60 customers per weekend.

At the CB2 meeting on Thursday last week, resident David Haase argued that restaurant noise and restaurants’ late hours of operation would be an intrusion on his life. Haase lives on Vernon Boulevard and his backyard shares airspace with a restaurant.

“When someone drops a fork in a restaurant, they drop a fork in my house,” he said.

This feeling of acoustic violation was reiterated by a number of other Vernon Boulevard residents throughout the meeting.

Residents on both sides of the argument expressed an interest in “creative compromise.” For Katsaitis, compromise might mean having restaurants shut down their outdoor spaces around 10 p.m. and not permitting smoking or music outdoors.

For Haase, compromise would instead involve moving outdoor eating options to different areas of the community.

“We have so much waterfront,” he said. “That’s where the outdoor space should be.”

Haase added that there are already street-side open cafes in the area and considers these a viable option.

Anna Finn, a resident of Vernon Boulevard, has recently started a rival petition to Katsaitis’ at the beginning of this month, titled “Not in My Backyard – A Quality of Life Issue.” So far, the petition has about 50 signatures.

Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, jstrawbridge@queenstribune.com or @JNStrawbridge.