Nolita neighbors fear Shake Shack take-out insanity

By Patrick Hedlund

Ever-expanding burger empire Shake Shack has met with stiff resistance in its bid to open a new restaurant that would serve about 100 customers per hour on a calm stretch in Little Italy.

Celebrated restaurateur Danny Meyer — who took his popular fast-food eateries citywide and then nationwide after opening the original Shake Shack in Madison Square Park — has planned as the site of his Downtown debut a vacant parking lot at the corner of Prince and Mulberry Sts.

Residents have claimed that the restaurant’s layout, which provides for only 30 seasonal seats on the roof and just a few inside the space, will bring a crush of hungry patrons spilling out onto the otherwise subdued block.

“Residents of the historic Little Italy neighborhood of Nolita have reacted with a mixture of shock, dread and horror as news spread of the hamburger chain Shake Shack’s proposed location in the heart of the picturesque area,” read a press release from concerned neighbors, including the Little Italy Neighborhood Association and the Little Italy Restoration Association.

According to residents, the proposed outdoor seating area above the sidewalk-level eatery poses overcrowding and noise problems for the tenants living in an adjacent residential building, as well as for the 195-year-old St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral and cemetery directly across the street. Neighbors fear that without sufficient seating, the restaurant will force customers to flood the streets to scarf down their orders — disrupting the area’s quality of life and impinging on the historic church’s presence.

“Local businesses are concerned that long lines waiting to get into the popular hamburger spot will block the already crowded sidewalks,” the press release noted. “Smells of food and cigarette smoke from the open-air emporium are other concerns of residents, as are trash, sanitation and traffic congestion generated by the production of over 1,500 carryout meals a day.”

The restaurant has also applied to serve beer and wine during its operating hours of 11 a.m. to midnight, a request that was pulled indefinitely following residents’ complaints at a Community Board 2 committee meeting last week. Another meeting, called by community members, on Monday saw almost 70 locals come out in opposition to the plan.

“Our team has received feedback from neighbors of the proposed Prince/Mulberry corner,” said Randy Garutti, C.E.O. of Shake Shack, in a statement to The Villager. “We are of course being thoughtful in taking that into consideration as we review our plans for this location.”

Alex Neratoff, an architect and Prince St. resident for more than 30 years, asked where the 100 patrons per hour would disperse with so few seating options: “The public library? The church? The food will be consumed in the street, where people will be sitting on parked cars, stoops, on the sidewalk next to the wall of St. Patrick’s,” he said.

Neratoff also wondered where the hundreds of patrons, with access to booze but so few seats, would choose to imbibe.

“It will overwhelm the already fragile context of north Little Italy,” he added. “Unless the city plans to put in public benches along the famous brick wall on Prince St., suspend public drinking laws and install some bathrooms, this will turn into a real mess.”

Adding another layer of confusion, the site’s M1-5B zoning designation does not allow for eating/drinking establishments on the ground floor of a multistory building. The restaurant’s open-air roof represents a “zoning dodge,” according to Neratoff, because it wasn’t presented as a complete second story despite the roof being considered as part the space’s total floor area.

The Soho Alliance neighborhood organization has also stepped in to represent concerned parties, and residents are currently pooling their money to challenge the project at the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals.

“Shake Shack is great in a park like Madison Square Park,” offered Jane Krupp, who has lived in the area 31 years, in the residents’ press release. “But where are these people going to go to eat their meals? Probably on my stoop.”

N.Y.U. Spiritual Center

The city’s Board of Standards and Appeals voted last week to approve New York University’s plan for a new spiritual center in Greenwich Village, granting the school several zoning variances to erect a six-story building on the south side of Washington Square Park.

The variances will allow N.Y.U. to construct the shorter, squatter building the school had sought for its Center for Academic and Spiritual Life at the southwest corner of Thompson St. and Washington Park South despite having the ability to build larger.

The new, 61,000-square-foot facility will house the university’s Catholic center along with the college’s three other chaplains — Jewish, Protestant and Muslim — together for the first time at the same location.

But not everyone is rejoicing at the news.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which has criticized most of N.Y.U.’s expansion plans in the Village, said the B.S.A.’s decision to permit the variances will result in less light and air for the neighborhood.

“This is another example of the Board of Standards and Appeals ignoring the law and neighborhood zoning protections in favor of influential and well-connected interests,” said Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P.’s executive director. “Granting N.Y.U. these zoning exemptions will have a negative impact upon the narrow, low-scale surrounding streets of the South Village, as well as blocking light to the neighboring historic Judson Memorial Church.”

Berman continued that the move “bodes ominously” for the neighborhood as the university seeks to increase its space by about 3 million square feet in Greenwich Village, the East Village, Noho and Union Square over the next 20 years under its master plan.

“In granting these exemptions to N.Y.U. in this case, the B.S.A. has lowered the threshold for granting variances from proving an indisputable need to a mere casual whim.”