2009-02-25 / Front Page

Board 3 Considers Bar-Restaurant Applications

Board 3 Considers Bar-Restaurant Applications

By Thomas Cogan
Community Board 3 held its February meeting at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights and met under the leadership of Grace Lawrence, its new chairperson. Most of the meeting was concerned with the issue of bar-restaurants in Jackson Heights, Corona and East Elmhurst.  This issue that has been gaining in intensity at Board 3 meetings for several months, and in February may have reached a critical point. The land use and business/economic development committees had a total of seven bar-restaurants to consider for recommendations to grant or refuse applications for cabaret licenses or licenses for wine, beer and liquor. Three of the applicants on the docket were not present, but the remaining four sparked debates. A detective from the Police Department talked about gangs in the area. A board member also proposed sending a letter of congratulations to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who as a boy lived in East Elmhurst, for achieving his high office.

Hamlett Wallace, chairman of the land use committee, had two cases for consideration, each being an application for a cabaret license. A representative for the first applicant, La Escuelita Bar-Cabaret Corp., said the establishment at 81-03 Roosevelt Ave. has been in place for 10 years, but until lately had been operating as Café Espana. He described La Escuelita as “a family restaurant” whose owner wished to have a small area reserved for dancing, and to that end applied for a cabaret license. He said La Escuelita’s owner had petitioned his neighbors to endorse his license application and gained 71 signatures in one day. The representative said this was not an attempt to build a big dance hall but to have a small floor area for what would amount to no more dance activity than one might find at a private holiday party.

Those objecting to the application brought up the word saturation, which has been employed several times in past Board 3 meetings. Opponents have been saying that locally, party-hearty bar-restaurants have become too numerous, bringing with them drinking, noise and enough disruption to require intervention by the 115th Police Precinct from time to time. (Summonses issued to 81-03 Roosevelt Ave. were brought up, but La Escuelita’s representative said they were all dismissed in court. He characterized the charges as petty.)  One man in the audience described the area from 69th to 114th Street, along Roosevelt Avenue and Northern Boulevard, with several places in between, as an urban territory rapidly approaching saturation in this respect. Ricardo Sanchez of the board defended the application, but sympathized with those anxious about saturation, agreeing with their call for an accounting of all these bar-restaurants in the blocks designated by the man in the audience but disagreeing with the movement for a moratorium on opening any new ones.

The other cabaret license application came from Romantica, a bar-restaurant at 76-07 Roosevelt Ave. Ed Westley, a board member, said Romantica had also been given summonses by the 115th Precinct. John Horan, a former board member, said it was time the board became serious about tracking all these places and their possible malfeasances. When the contention was made that there were only two licensed cabarets locally, meaning that these new applications hardly stood for the threat of saturation, some objected that there were many dance spots operating without cabaret licenses, and thus illegally. An accounting of the legal and illegal ones should be tallied, they added, the assumption being that the illegal ones could then be either fined or closed.

Visantrai Gandhi, the outgoing chairman of Board 3, spoke for the business and economic development committee as it’s handled the beer, wine and liquor license applications of Ecuamax, 101-01 37th Ave., and Angelita, 107-01 37th Ave. Ed Westley said that Ecuamax has had run-ins with the 115th Precinct; Ecuamax’s representative said that his bar-restaurant was hardly contributing to saturation, since the nearest bar-restaurant was four blocks away, on 97th Street. Board members were concerned about Angelita’s seemingly lacking certificate of occupation.

   The applications for cabaret licenses were turned down. Wallace announced that the land use committee had recommended rejection, and a majority of the members present agreed. There were, however, several votes favoring La Escuelita and Romantico, cast by members who told the others that discouraging these businesses with their disapproval was foolish, since many of the bar-restaurants had moved into empty building spaces and got on the tax rolls, moves very much in the community’s favor. Gandhi then said that the business and economic development committee recommended rejection of Equamax’s beer, wine and liquor application, and the vote that followed ran along the same lines of approval and disapproval. The application was recommended for rejection.

Angelita got committee approval, pending verification of its certificate of occupancy, and most of the membership went along with that.

Those favoring a moratorium on the cabaret and alcoholic beverages applications were supported by a notice to the board calling for one, from City Councilmember Helen Sears. Lawrence asked if the board should vote on it. Several said yes, and a motion favoring it was entered. Ricardo Sanchez made an amendment to the motion, saying that it should go before the executive committee and, if the committee affirms it, brought back to next month’s meeting. The amendment was passed by a voice vote, though a voice or two among the members called the vote a fast shuffle.

A talk about gang activity in Jackson Heights and Corona naturally aroused interest during the few minutes spent on it by Detective Eddie Bencosme of the Police Department’s gang unit for Queens. He said the area’s gang problem is currently a moderate one, but could get worse. He described local gang members as persons often holding jobs during the week but hanging out a lot on nights and weekends, usually concentrating on other gang members or young persons who might be drawn into gangs. Bencosme said he has found many of the gang members to be “not bad”, but caught in a bad situation where, even if they do work, they have little social life and are open to gang recruiters. He said that the gangs unit covers all of Queens and, being quite small, is spread quite thin. He suggested that local residents who see signs of gang activity should report them at 718-626-6630.

Westley asked that a letter of congratulations be sent to the recently approved United States Attorney General Eric Holder on the occasion of his becoming head of the Justice Department. Holder was raised in East Elmhurst in the 1950s and ’60s, and Lawrence said she had known both him and his mother, Miriam Holder.


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