L.G.B.T. Center and critics will meet on noise

By Albert Amateau

Residential neighbors of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center on W. 13th St. have been complaining for the past two years about noisy crowds from the Center disrupting neighborhood.

But what rankles them more is their belief that the Center has ignored their complaints.

“We’ve had several meetings and they’re always pleasant and courteous but they’ve never done anything to curb the noise, the crowds or double parking,” said Tom Molner, a member of the W. 13th St. Neighborhood Association who lives across the street from the Center. “It’s not a gay issue — I’m gay and I want to get to sleep at night,” he added.

In response to a November resolution by Community Board 2, City Councilmember Christine Quinn last week arranged a Dec. 15 meeting at the L.G.B.T. Center, 208 W. 13th St., with the community board’s Institutions Committee, members of the neighborhood association and Richard Burns, executive director of the Center.

“This will be the first time in over two years of meetings that we’ve got Quinn’s office involved because we have gotten nowhere with the Center regarding complaints of the neighbors,” said Martin Tessler, head of C.B. 2’s Institutions Committee. The Institutions Committee has used the term “stonewalling” to describe the Center’s lack of responsiveness until now.

The Center, located in a former public school building and founded in 1983, underwent an extensive interior renovation during which it operated out of a swing space on Little W. 12th St. from 1998 until 2001. Neighbors have been complaining about noisy crowds on W. 13th St. ever since the building re-opened in the middle of 2001.

Cleo Vias, who also lives across the street from the Center, recalled that shortly after the Center opened 20 years ago, “They promised with passionate sincerity that ‘you’ll never known we’re here.’ But now there might be 50 or 60 people out front after meetings on weeknights and as many as 100 on weekends. Passersby have to go into the street to get through. I don’t think they take our concerns seriously. They seem to feel they have a right to take over the street.”

Robert Woodworth, director of institutional service at the Center, said the Center has tried to take the neighborhood seriously. “But we serve 6,000 people a week,” he noted. “It’s tricky. There will never be nobody on the sidewalk.” The Center is open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., with an occasional 1 a.m. closing on weekends, he added.

“There will be a fair amount of people in front who are leaving events,” Woodworth acknowledged. “We ask volunteers to keep people moving, but we really don’t have control over what happens outside.”

“It’s hard to tell sometimes whether the people on the sidewalk are from the Center or somewhere else; there’s a lot of foot traffic to the park on the waterfront,” he continued. On the positive side, the Center takes part in neighborhood beautification by planting flowers in sidewalk tree pits, he noted.

Woodworth hopes the Dec. 15 meeting will help resolve outstanding issues. “We’ll see if we can brainstorm and come up with ways to satisfy all of us,” he said.

However, Richard Tanner, a resident of the block for 13 years, recalled that a year ago the neighborhood association suggested that the Center send ushers into the street after meetings to move the crowds along. “They just gave it lip service,” he said. “We want to give the Center a chance but we don’t know what else to do,” Tanner said.

The community board resolution included a clause noting that the Center “sponsors parties where liquor is being served and tickets are being sold that call into question whether the State Liquor Authority regulations are being violated.”

Quinn said, “I hope the [Dec. 15] meeting will paint a clear picture of the problem and enable us to come up with solutions that will make it better,” she said.