Drunk NYU students are ruining the East Village. At least, that’s what a lot of residents and business owners said last night while discussing a zoning plan aimed at preserving the character of the neighborhood.
The purpose of the forum was for the public to share their concerns about the decline in retail diversity while members of Community Board 3 quietly listened and sometimes struggled to get the 40 speakers to stick to their allotted two minutes.
According to the board, there’s been an ongoing dramatic loss in retail diversity in the neighborhood along with the decline of small businesses, which is why they’ve started to consider a special district. Something similar is also happening over on Bleecker Street.
The idea is to limit the amount of certain business types in a given area to encourage a variety of mom-and-pop shops. For example, only 25 percent of any block would have bars or restaurants. Another proposal is to limit the number of chain stores or banks, like Duane Reade or Chase, to one per block.
The board is informally proposing enacting a special district from 14th Street to Houston and from 2nd Avenue to Avenue D, which some said doesn’t expand far enough and should include Bowery and FDR Drive.
The board hasn’t taken an official stance yet and they haven’t drafted any detailed proposals because they wanted to hear from the public first.
“We are not here tonight to present a plan to you,” said Jamie Rogers, chair of the community board. “We will not move forward without your input on anything or the plan.”
A resonating concern that was always met with nodding heads and applause was getting nightlife, Walgreens, NYU and students out of the neighborhood.
“We just want to keep the neighborhood as everyone’s been saying,” said Abby Ehmann, who last year told us she opened Lucky bar partly to fight the increasing “douche factor” of the East Village. “Diverse and entertaining. And good for all of us who live here. And not for the kids to live in those NYU dorms and just dump all their crap when they go off to wherever they go off to in the summer. They don’t contribute to the neighborhood.”
Some, like Anthony Vargas, questioned if that was really the problem and wondered how this proposal would affect small business owners who want to open bars or restaurants.
Jorge Vasquez, a city council candidate, supports the idea of the district, but also suggested limiting chain stores that pop up for a season, like Halloween stores and tax preparation services. He went on to say, “Once these small businesses go, then your community changes because that’s where we work at. That’s who supports our baseball teams. That’s who supports our schools.”
Almost all of the speakers were small business owners, nearly all of whom echoed each other’s sentiments. However, there were a few who opposed the idea of a special district. Sam Levy, a representative of the Real Estate Board of New York, said a special district isn’t an effective way to protect small business owners. Another man said owners should do more to effectively compete with online companies like Amazon and Fresh Direct. They were all met with hisses and boos by the crowd.
A statement by the owner of Theatre 80 St. Marks, Lorcan Otway, resonated throughout the forum. “New York is not dying. It’s being murdered,” he said.
The community board said they will take everyone’s comments into consideration and will discuss further steps and proposal details during their next meeting.