Hotel Roof Tops CB4 Concerns

Photo by Eileen Stukane Bill Borock, president of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations, speaks with concern about the Gem Hotel’s request for a rooftop beer/wine license.
Photo by Eileen Stukane
Bill Borock, president of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations, speaks with concern about the Gem Hotel’s request for a rooftop beer/wine license.

BY EILEEN STUKANE  |  Held on the evening of Wednesday, October 2, the monthly full board meeting of Community Board 4 (CB4) saw three years of research and analysis of the needs of community seniors come to fruition — when Barbara Davis, chief operating officer of The Actors Fund (and co-chair of CB4’s Housing, Health and

Human Services Committee) stepped up to the podium in Roosevelt Hospital’s conference room. She revealed the startling fact that “Over the next 20 years, the number of older New Yorkers is expected to increase by nearly 50 percent, and for the first time in history, older New Yorkers are expected to outnumber school-age children.”  This enormous segment of the population needed a profile to help the community create an environment that would accommodate older individuals as they aged. The research work that has resulted in the Seniors Community Survey and Seniors Resource Directory publications required a team effort. Davis acknowledged Judy Rosch, project manager of The Actors Fund, The Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation Inc., the Visiting Nurse Service of New York and Manhattan Plaza and Related Companies, as well as support from CB4 and elected officials.

During her presentation, Davis revealed that 45 percent of seniors surveyed (who were mostly from the Manhattan Plaza community) have incomes below $20,000 a year, and have assets of less than $20,000. The survey also notes that 57 percent are not meeting recommended physical activity guidelines and that 31 percent felt they needed help from a mental health professional during the year (although only 43 percent received help). Almost 25 percent of the surveyed seniors use mobility devices. Getting around is an issue — 21 percent said they had difficulty finding transportation, and 70 percent cited traffic as a serious problem.

“While gentrification has added vitality to the neighborhood, the rise in the cost of living and lack of affordable housing is making it much more difficult for seniors to remain in their neighborhoods,” said Davis, “We recommend making affordable housing for seniors a legislative priority, to work to improve transportation, traffic and risk conditions.” It is encouraging that safety improvements have already begun, as indicated by Item #16 on the evening’s agenda — a CB4 letter to the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) applauding the proposed redesign and signal light changes for the intersection of West 41st Street and Ninth Avenue. The letter also suggested other changes, between West 41st and West 44th Streets along Ninth Avenue near the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. This letter would be board-approved later on in the meeting.

Davis indicated four areas that required attention for seniors: Basic Needs such as Housing and Safety, Promoting Social and Civic Engagement, Optimizing Physical and Mental Health and Well-Being and Maximizing Independence. She announced that the advisory committee for the survey would remain as an active group to develop and implement solutions proposed by the report, and she encouraged new people and organizations, such as tenants associations and service organizations, to join with them. Contact The Actors Fund Senior Care Program by calling 212-221-7300 or visiting actorsfund.org. The Seniors Community Survey and Seniors Resource Directory are available online on the CB4 website (nyc.gov/mcb4), and as published booklets free at the CB4 office, and offices of organizations that participated in the survey.

Three of those who approached the microphone during CB4’s public session voiced strong concern about the Gem Hotel (300 West 22nd Street, at Eighth Avenue). The Gem’s application to the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) for a beer and wine license would allow rooftop activity for up to 52 people from 10am-9pm on weeknights, and until 10pm on weekends. Five tables accommodating 41 people would be on the roof, along with a standup bar. Later in the evening, the Gem’s SLA application would be discussed by the board as Item #2 on the agenda. The hotel’s rooftop abuts neighboring residential buildings, and in a line of apartment windows, one window is only 10 feet above the rooftop.

A disruption of quality of life due to noise from planned events, music, and patrons brought Bill Borock, president of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations, Lesley Doyel, co-president of Save Chelsea, and Phyllis Weitzman, a member of the West 21st to 24th Street Block Association to the meeting.

CB4 has been trying to work with the Gem Hotel on this issue for a while. The Gem, which had only used its roof for its hotel patrons, planned on opening it to the public. Borock rose to say that he, along with representatives of other community groups, met with the Gem Hotel general manager and attorney that day. Along with noise, a major concern is that the Gem’s application states it will have “occasional” events on the roof.

Borock asked for “a limit placed on the number of special events and parties” but the Gem was noncommittal. Regarding noise, “a sound study was not done prior to the application,” said Borock, who added that, “We were told by the applicant that it had an informal study done and it wasn’t cost effective, nothing could be done to eliminate the noise. After someone spoke of different sound areas and how they work in other locations, if a sound study were done, there were things that could have been implemented.”

Lesley Doyel read from a letter written to CB4 by Save Chelsea. “Denial of this application should have been automatic,” the letter noted, as the application is in direct conflict of CB4’s rooftop policy, which states: “Permitted rooftops must be a minimum of 10 stories above abutting residences.” She urged the board to support stipulations of noise requirements and event limitations. Both Borock and Doyel were supported by Phyllis Weitzman. “The Block Association will be very vigilant in monitoring what the Gem Hotel does in the future,” she vowed, “and we will be loud and boisterous about anything they do that is not appropriate and correct.”

Erin McCarron introduced the LGBT Center’s Smoke-Free Project, which, with Manhattan Smoke-Free Partnership and Mt. Sinai, is working to educate tenants, co-op boards and building managers in how to make buildings smoke-free across Manhattan. A Smoke-Free informational event, where lawyers will talk about the legal aspects, is scheduled for November 13th at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge, 132 West 32nd Street.

Meredith Nowikowski announced the Meatpacking District Improvement Association’s second annual Harvest Fest for families, in Gansevoort Plaza, between Hudson Street and Ninth Avenue, on Saturday, October 26th, 10am-4pm. Live music, arts & crafts, face painting, costumes and storytelling will take place.

Lisa Wager of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) encouraged everyone to take in “A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk” at FIT’s Special Exhibitions Gallery (from September 13th to January 4th, 2014) and “RetroSpective” at the Fashion Textile History Gallery (until November 16th).

Betty Mackintosh, a CB4 board member who is also a volunteer at the Hell’s Kitchen Farm Project, showed off a carrot, Swiss chard and a tomato from the Metro Baptist rooftop garden and invited everyone to the Farm Project’s Fall Harvest Celebration of food, drink and rooftop tours on October 30th, from 6-8pm at the Metro Baptist Church, 410 West 40th Street, between Ninth Avenue and Dyer. A $15 donation was requested but no one would be turned away. She also recommended last week’s Chelsea Now, and showed what she said was a “wonderful article and photo of the farm” on the front page.

Michael Noble, also a CB4 board member, spoke for his neighborhood in telling everyone to be aware of the restructuring of NYCHA and its newly appointed board of directors.

Photo by Don Mathisen Reporter Eileen Stukane, at CB4’s Oct. 2 full board meeting.
Photo by Don Mathisen
Reporter Eileen Stukane, at CB4’s Oct. 2 full board meeting.

Jeffrey LeFrancois, representing Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, announced his departure from his position, with warm words about his time working with CB4. David Cyzyk, who currently represents Borough President Scott Stringer, will be stepping into the job LeFrancois is leaving. For Assemblymember Gottfried, LeFrancois praised the reopening of PS 51, after two years.  “Now the students are back home in a great new building,” he said.

For the Affordable Care Act, there is a new marketplace called “New York State of Health: The Official Health Plan Marketplace.” For information, visit nystateofhealth.ny.gov or email exchange@health.state.ny.us. For Community Service Society’s help site, go to cssny.org and click on “Access to Health Care” or call 888-614-5400.

Cyzyk, for Borough President Scott Stringer, also offered help for the Affordable Care Act on the Borough President’s website: mbpo.org. He also announced a “Prison to Prosperity Fair/Business Competition for Formerly Incarcerated Entrepreneurs” to help formerly incarcerated people get back on their feet. The all-day fair, from 8am-5:30pm on Saturday, October 26, will take place at Lehman College in the Bronx. The website for registering:  thinkoutsidethecell.org.

Jackie Blank, speaking for Congressman Jerrold Nadler, told of Nadler’s condemnation of the government shutdown and support of the Affordable Care Act.  Nadler’s office can also be called for questions about the Affordable Care Act:  212-367-7350.

Funsho Owolabi, for Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, reported two events: First, Rosenthal’s Free Breast Cancer Screening in partnership with the American-Italian Cancer Foundation — Thursday, October 17th, 9am-5pm, at Rosenthal’s district office, 230 West 72nd Street. Open to all women 40 or over who have not received a mammogram in the last 12 months, there is no fee or insurance required. However if you have insurance, bring your card. Second, Free Flu Shot Day — Tuesday, October 22nd, 9am-12noon, also at the district office address. Both events require appointments by calling 212-873-6368.

Rosenthal has also convened a task force of elected officials and CBs 4, 5 and 7 to work with the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) to reform the system of issuing After-Hours Variances, permits that allow construction work at night and on weekends that causes noisy after-hours.

Harriet Sedgwick, for Christine Quinn, announced two pieces of legislation passed by the City Council. First, legislation to prevent pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, and second, legislation for storm protection. The city would be required to undertake a study on the use of permeable materials on streets and sidewalks that could help reduce flooding, and in addition, look into prevention of sewage backup, and automatic faucets and toilets that can operate in a power outage.

Edgar Yu, for New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance, announced that it is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. He also spoke of the DA Vance’s conference on “Intellectual Property Rights In The Digital Age,” a conference he hosted last month at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  For other DA events, go to manhattanda.org.

Tricia Shimamura, for Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, assured everyone that Maloney’s district office was open, that Social Security benefits would be paid, postal mail delivered and active military would continue to serve, along with air traffic controllers, prison guards, border patrol and mission control for astronauts at the space station.

New York State Senator Brad Hoylman spoke of touring the empty Bayview prison building with Assemblymember Gottfried and members of CB4, and said that a community use would be found for the building. The requests for stipulations for the Gem Hotel brought up the issue of having a home rule for liquor licenses. “I also have a bill that stipulations should be publicly available,” he said.  “If you want to know what a stipulation is on a bar, you have to file a freedom of information request. The precincts don’t even have them. This needs to change.”

Hoylman also announced that this was the last CB4 meeting that his representative Jared Chanson would be attending, as he was leaving his job to travel. It seemed to be a night of farewells.

Robert Benfatto, CB4’s district manager, reported that the Fulton Houses Project had been approved but there were still issues regarding the facade.  The Chelsea Land Use Committee would attend a presentation of the facade on October 21st, 12:30pm, at 353 West 30th Street (in the community room).  As Mayor Bloomberg’s term is coming to an end, the Clinton Land Use Committee is meeting on October 21st and 30th in anticipation of a greater number of ULURP certifications. City Planning approved the renaming of the Hudson Yard Business Improvement District (BID) to the Hudson Yards/Hell’s Kitchen Alliance. Now it’s up to the NY City Council to approve the renaming.

Betty Mackintosh announced the current selection of nominees for CB4’s December 4th election of officers. The nominees are: Chair: Christine Berthet and Burt Lazarin; First Vice-Chair: Hugh Weinberg; Second Vice-Chair: Delores Rubin; Co-Secretary: Frank Zubec; Co-Secretary: Miranda Nelson.

The final slate will be presented at the November 6th full board meeting. If there are additional nominations from the floor, the nominating committee will reconvene and present a revised slate at the December 4th CB4 full board meeting, when the election will be held.

Before discussion and votes on agenda items, Chair Corey Johnson spoke of yet another farewell. He warmly praised CB4 board member Larry Roberts, who has been co-chair of CB4’s Quality of Life Committee, Co-Secretary, served on Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Land Use Committee and was an “excellent board member.” Johnson and CB4 were giving him a hearty send-off at Jake’s Saloon after the meeting.

Item #1, the ratification of an enclosed sidewalk cafe for New York Burger Co. (on the southeast corner of West 23rd Street and Tenth Avenue) was solidly approved. Members of the board spoke of how the corner had been a derelict location, and they were delighted that a business had been successful in that spot.

Business License and Permits Committee Items # 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12 and 13, relating to SLA licenses, alterations or expansions of restaurants, were bundled and approved as written.  Lisa Daglian, co-chair of the Business License and Permits Committee, spoke for Item #3, the 10th Ave. Café Inc. (at 736 Tenth Avenue), which had worked with the community and CB4. The community had concerns about the use of a rear yard, and the owners had agreed to full enclosure of the yard, and to seek an application that excluded the rear yard completely. “This is an example of a collaborative effort coming to a great conclusion,” she said.

Items #4, 6 and 11 were approved. The time was set aside for discussion of the Gem Hotel’s application to the SLA for a wine and beer license. In the public session, there had been three speakers representing community groups who voiced their concern. CB4’s letter recommended denial of the license unless certain stipulations were followed: no amplified music, no percussion instruments on the roof, closing at 9pm on weeknights, 10pm on weekends. According to Daglian, the Gem had come to the committee two years prior and had made application for wine and beer and the stipulations were in place but the hotel had never implemented them. Now the Gem wanted to allow the public on the rooftop, which would hold 52 people, 41 at five tables and the rest at a standup bar. The Gem also wanted to hold events on the roof and it did not want to be limited in number.

The members discussed the intractability of the Gem when it came to limiting events and working on sound reduction measures such as baffles. Residences abutted the rooftop and there would definitely be noise. The security on the street was also under discussion. Daglian had met with the Gem managers and attorneys and they were not making any concessions other than what had been agreed to in relation to music and closing hours. “Because this is a beer and wine application, if we recommend denial completely to the SLA, the applicant has already said that it will go and file without us,” said Daglian. In other words, it would be better for CB4 if stipulations went on record, and then possibly some of them could be implemented, rather than recommend to deny the license. According to Daglian, the SLA would not be moved anyway.

CB4’s policy is “no rooftop permits unless 10 floors above residential buildings.” Yet according to Daglian, CB4 was between a rock and a hard place, with little leverage. The Gem was not being cooperative with the community, but in spite of this, the forgone conclusion was that the SLA would grant its wine and beer license. A vote was called for approving a letter that would have a “friendly amendment” to the SLA from CB4. The amendment would explain that CB4 did not want to approve the wine and beer license but noting that the SLA would approve, in order to protect the community, CB4 would like stipulations such as a sound engineer’s report, a security plan, a limit to events, and replacement windows as appropriate. Johnson voiced his desire to write a letter of denial and stand up for the policy set by CB4. A vote was taken and the letter with the amendment was approved. Johnson voted to deny.

Transportation Committee Items #14 through 20 were bundled and approved. Item #16 reflected the DOT’s redesign of the Ninth Avenue cross and lights, which CB4 applauded in its letter. Item #18 to the DOT noted the department’s agreement to remove the bench at the entrance of Selis Manor, a residence for the blind at 135 West 23rd Street. This was an issue presented by Selis Manor residents at the last board meeting. They said that they use the walls of buildings to help themselves navigate and the bench was a serious obstruction. The DOT gave the matter prompt attention.

In the order of New Business was Item #23, the Restaurant Row Improvement Project which included in-ground solar- powered low-level lighting and restaurant listing signs. A number of questions were raised as to design and funding and scheduling of these changes to the area. It was decided to table the item and send it back to committee for discussion.

CB4 then adjourned to Jake’s Saloon to say goodbye to Larry Roberts!