CB3 Bristles at ‘Hell Square’ Designation in Controversial Liquor Saturation Panel

Posted on: September 13th, 2017 at 9:58 am by

Whenever the subject of liquor licenses in Hell Square is raised, conversations are heated and tempers flare. One need only attend the monthly SLA subcommittee meeting for confirmation, or, as it happens, a hearing to discuss bar saturation on the Lower East Side.

Such was the case last night during the scheduled panel about “Alcohol Outlet Density” in Hell Square. The event featured a scholar on liquor density (Robert Pezzolesi) and the Hunter College team (Prof. Sigmund Shipp, Francisco Sandoval, Gretchen Bank) behind the controversial report of same released a few months ago.

The Transportation subcommittee, led by Chair Chad Marlow, heard two presentations on the links between license saturation and public health and safety. The first, presented by Pezzolesi, took a broad view of peer-reviewed studies showing a relationship between density and negative outcomes; the second showed similar findings in Hell Square. After both, affected residents in attendance expressed strong anecdotal support of the findings.

When the polarizing Hunter paper was first unleashed in June, it detonated huge hyperlocal fallout. Findings included scary stats on saturation and controversial conclusions about links to area crime. For example, there are over 130 active on-premise liquor licenses in the 24-block area bounded by East Houston, Allen, Broome, and Clinton Streets, translating to approximately 11.5 bars per block. This gives the tiny quadrant the distinction of having the highest density of licenses in New York City.

The hearing also became an opportunity for the public chastising of both the Hunter study and the LES Dwellers block association itself, the longtime nemesis of CB3. Backlash abounded over the data collection methods behind the study – small sample size (123) and participants of the group’s email list – and whether the link between density of licenses and higher crime is actually legit. However, Shipp explained at the outset that the findings were simply preliminary, based on two months of work that would continue into the current semester.

“The depiction that the Dwellers handpicked participants that were biased is misleading and factually untrue,” founder Diem Boyd says.

“We have no knowldege of who filled out the survey only the results of the survey from the report. The Hunter team crafted the survey, created the link to the survey, and captured the results independently of us. Moreover, we disagree with the detractors’ analysis that 123 participants is an insignificant sample size as it’s roughly 3% of Hell Square’s population, and to dismiss the participants is to deny that there is a serious public health and safety problem here.”

Criticism was led by Lucky Jack’s owner and CB3 Economic Development Chair Meghan Joye, SLA chair Alex Militano, and Lower East Side Partnership’s Tim Laughlin. All rejected the results of the study and pushed back on the academic research and purported links of saturation to health problems. For instance, noting how the overwhelming number of noise complaints from residents in the data did not specifically arise from the bar scene alone.

This tipped board member Karlin Chan into his own tirade of CB3 policy in recent years. “Their defense of bars and clubs didn’t sit well with me,” he told us after the proceedings. “I ripped into them with why we were even having this discussion while CB3’s SLA committee summarily ignores residents’ concerns and dishes out liquor licenses like they are going out of style. I feel as a community board we need to address residents’ concerns, but they are more interested in economic gains.”

Best of all, though, were complaints about the “Hell Square” moniker itself. Joye accused the Dwellers of coining the phrase, and that continued repetition of the designation reinforces a negative stereotype of the area. For the record, it was coined more than ten years ago, and later popularized by Curbed.

In the end, the committee considered opportunities to address the collective impact of on-premise licensed establishments, but decided that further discussions are needed. There were also calls to bring the alphabet soup of city agencies – DOT, DOH, NYPD – to conduct an official study on the issue.

Over-Saturation of Nightlife is Toxic to the LES by BoweryBoogie on Scribd

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