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Claim Backyard Plan Is Trouble

L.I.C. Residents Protest Expansion To CB 2

It’s a typical block in Long Island City-with a courtyard described as silent, peaceful, and serene-but residents at last Thursday’s (May 2) Community Board 2 meeting in Sunnyside charged an expanding restaurant is threatening to turn their shared haven into a noisy nuisance.

Representatives from residential buildings along 46th Road and 47th Avenue near Vernon Boulevard told the board that their neighbor, Alobar, should not be allowed to open its backyard to diners, because it will create constant noise and privacy issues.

Alobar plans to offer outdoor seating for 15 to 18 people in the 9′- deep backyard area later this summer, according to owner Jeff Blath, who spoke with the Times Newsweekly over the phone May 3. The location has been open for a little under a year and a half, he said.

The restaurant’s yard is adjacent to a courtyard shared by residents on the two affected blocks, and they say noise is already a problem, even while diners are confined to the eatery’s interior.

“A year and a half ago, I was the guy who could hear cicadas in his backyard,” said area resident David Haase. “It doesn’t take a lot of imag- ination to understand just how important those peaceful courtyards are. We keeps our windows open and … seven days a week-nights, weekends- that noise is coming in.”

Some of the residents have lived in the buildings for more than 50 years, said Hasse, who has lived there for 20 years.

“The term ‘quality of life’ gets thrown around a lot, and truthfully, I never understood it until Alobar took it away from us,” said Paul Short, who also lives on the affected blocks.

The restaurant has already reneged on promises to keep noise to a minimum, Short said. Management told residents it would keep the restaurant’s back doors closed and wouldn’t host live music, but the restaurant did both the previous weekend, Short claimed on May 2.

Over the phone, Blath said he and residents agreed the restaurant would close its back doors at 8 p.m., a promise he said he maintains. Blath noted the restaurant closes at 10 p.m. as a measure of courtesy.

Short said his apartment faces Alobar’s backyard. All three of his windows are 20 feet from the wouldbe dining area, affording him little privacy when patrons dine.

“When the garden had been put to use in the past, the noise was inescapable- I almost went out of my mind,” said Short, who has lived in the building for a decade. “The backyard is an echo chamber. Sounds magnify and travel.”

He said the restaurant installed an awning, but it has done little to abate noise. Instead, it will allow them to operate outside even when weather is poor, leaving residents no hope for respite, Short said.

Blath told the Times Newsweekly that his backyard is enclosed by an 11′ wall and that privacy should not be a concern. He added that residents have told him they cannot hear noise with their windows closed.

“That’s an important distinction,” said Blath, who also lives in the neighborhood.

Blath contended patrons cannot see into neighbors’ apartments either, because the viewing angle is so steep, adding that if he is approved for outdoor seating, he will extend the current awning in order to give neighbors a better sense of privacy.

While they pleaded with the community board to block outdoor seating, the residents spoke highly of the restaurant, saying their only issue was noise.

“We appreciate the restaurant’s business, but we think that they can keep it within their walls and not the backyards that are other people’s space,” resident Beth Garrett told the board.

Short said he likes the restaurant and has eaten there many times

“I even took my mother there,” he said. “But there are plenty of restaurants in the neighborhood with no outdoor seating … Alobar is a fine restaurant, and they don’t need it to thrive.”

But, according to Blath, that’s not the case.

Zoning changes are making it easier for restaurants to offer sidewalk seating, and Blath said he needs the backyard area to compete. Alobar is not eligible for sidewalk seating, he noted.

In defense of opening his backyard, Blath said the move would be less obtrusive than sidewalk seating, which affects everyone who passes by, he argued.

Blath said there will be no speakers and no smoking allowed in the backyard if it is allowed to open.

Pat O’Brien, who chaired Community Board 2’s meeting in in Chair Joe Conley’s absence, May 2, said the restaurant has not submitted specific plans, and that information will become available during the land use committee’s meeting May 15. The issue will likely come before the board at its next meeting, he said.

The next Community Board 2 meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 6, at Sunnyside Community Services, located at 43-31 39th St. in Sunnyside.

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