Nolita neighbors fear Shake Shack take-out insanity

Volume 79, Number 37 | February 17 – 23, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

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.”

Rising hotel concerns

Volume 78 – Number 22 / October 29 – November 4, 2008Rising hotel concernsResidents have been working with the developers of a boutique hotel rising on the site of the former Moondance Diner in Soho to ensure the plan includes noise-reduction precautions for the property’s patio and rooftop space.

The project — a 17-story, 70,000-square-foot hotel with 114 rooms — is currently under construction at the corner of Grand St. and Sixth Ave., with the intention of securing three liquor licenses for the space’s ground-floor, deck and rooftop operations.

Residents and members of the Soho Alliance met with representatives from developer Brack Capital Real Estate last month to discuss concerns over noise, especially as they relate to any open-air portions of the on-site restaurants/bars.

The residents mostly took issue with hotel’s outdoor deck and roof areas, requesting that the developer enclose the rooftop and implement mandatory closing times of 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends.

“That way you could have your rooftop open all year long,” said Alliance Director Sean Sweeney.

The developer is currently trying to negotiate to keep the rooftop area open, and also wants closing times an hour later than suggested by the community.

“I can tell you right now, we’re not ever going to give them that,” Sweeney offered, which should make for a spirited discussion between the two parties at their next meeting on Nov. 19. Other Downtown communities have successfully lobbied for even earlier closing times at similar hotel bars, getting operators to agree to closing times as early as 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Warren Pesetsky, counsel to the developers for their liquor license applications, said that community relations will be central moving forward.

“You can’t live in atmosphere where everyone around you hates you,” he said.


Soho mural defaced

Taggers targeted a landmark artwork in Soho last week, spray-painting over the bottom portion of a five-story mural at Prince and Greene Sts. after the piece had remained untouched for over 30 years.

Artist Richard Haas used the east wall of the building at 112 Prince St. in 1975 as a canvas for his tromp l’oeil mural, which imitated the building’s cast-iron facade and became a celebrated piece of public art in the neighborhood.

The new graffiti appears to be part of a spree by taggers who also spray-painted a nearby parking lot on Wooster St. with similar writing. Soho Alliance Director Sean Sweeney said his organization would pay to restore the vandalized portion of Haas’s work.

A couple of months ago, a developer interested in building higher at the adjacent, one-story property contacted Sweeney regarding the mural, who suggested an artwork be replicated at another location in the neighborhood if Haas’s mural were to blocked by new construction.

“I can’t imagine someone doing that to a famous mural,” Sweeney said, discounting a theory put forth by one neighbor that the developer might have been behind the vandalism. “It’s hard to believe that some wealthy developer would do that, but it’s hard to believe a graffitist would do that,” Sweeney said.

Was This Street Made for Walking?


Was This Street Made for Walking?

Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

“I would argue that SoHo today is a mall,” a local resident says.

Published: March 23, 2008

ON a weekend stroll down Prince Street in SoHo, past the vendors with foldout tables heaped with jewelry and movie scripts, the crowds flocking in and out of the Apple store, and the milling clusters of overtired out-of-towners, it might seem hard to imagine that the neighborhood could suffer from more foot-traffic congestion than it already does.

But that peril, along with the daunting prospect of still more tourists, is the main reason many local residents oppose a plan suggested this month by the city’s Department of Transportation to declare summer Sundays on Prince Street car-free from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The plan drew heated opposition from about 200 people at a meeting on March 11 of the Traffic and Transportation Committee of Community Board 2.

On Thursday night, the full board voted to reject the idea, asking the department to explore car-free zones in a different form or perhaps on a different street.

The argument in favor of the plan, said Ian Dutton, a community board member who is a pilot and says he has seen pedestrian-only streets work well in Europe, is that the vast majority of traffic on Prince Street is foot traffic, yet nearly all the street space is given over to cars.

Opponents of the plan, among them Sean Sweeney, executive director of the SoHo Alliance, say that creating more space for pedestrians would make the area even more of a destination for tourists, attracting more visitors and vendors, which would force existing traffic onto adjacent streets and destroy any last remnants of the neighborhood’s residential character.

“The first week, if you had no cars you’d have some room maybe,” Mr. Sweeney said. “But after a couple of weeks or a couple of months, the word would go out in all the tourist guides: ‘Oh, the Prince Street mall!’ ”

That damage, Mr. Dutton maintains, has already been done. “I would argue that SoHo today is a mall,” he said. “It’s just a mall with New Jersey S.U.V.’s driving through it.”

Both supporters and opponents of the plan blame the street vendors, and what they say is a lack of police attention to illegal vending, for aggravating the congestion and taking up valuable sidewalk space in a neighborhood where little of it exists.

Brad Hoylman, chairman of the community board, said that even after Thursday’s vote, the idea of a pedestrianized Prince Street may not be dead, if the transportation department can, among other things, address the problem of illegal vendors and agree that any experiment with banning cars from a local street would be temporary.

Mr. Dutton did not want to give up. “I tried to ask this over and over: ‘Do you like Prince Street the way it is?’ ” he said. “Almost no one can say that. So, what are we going to do about it?”



Last Updated: 4:04 AM, March 16, 2008

Posted: 4:04 AM, March 16, 2008

A street fight has erupted in SoHo.

Prince Street residents and merchants are up in arms over a proposal to ban cars from a six-block stretch this summer to make way for Sunday strollers.

The city plans to begin the 14-week pilot program on Prince, from Lafayette Street to West Broadway, on Memorial Day weekend. The section would be off-limits to vehicles on Sundays between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

But residents claim the move would attract more street vendors, block access to emergency vehicles, and even spark fights between bicyclists and pedestrians.

“Mulberry Street is your future if you let this pass,” Lillian Tozzi, of the Little Italy Neighbors Association, said at a Community Board 2 meeting last week attended by 200 residents. “You will lose your right to enter freely into your apartment, to have visitors.”

Andy Wiley-Schwartz, the city Department of Transportation’s assistant commissioner of strategic planning and sustainability, said the project would not increase the number of vendors or turn the area into a carnival.

“This is not San Gennaro,” he said. “There’s no funnel cakes.”

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