Last week, nearly 200 people from the Upper East Side showed up at a Community Board street life committee meeting to debate the fate of a church/event space on Park Avenue. The embattled 583 Park operates as an upscale event space out of the Third Church of Christ Scientist on Park Avenue and East 63rd Street. The Rose Group, which operates 583 Park, has been leasing the space since 2006, hosting lavish weddings, large charity events and functions like fashion shows for designer Oscar de la Renta. Over the years, it has become a favored spot for many event planners and a sore spot for many neighbors.
Some local residents complain that the noise, traffic, lights and crowds generated by events at 583 Park—about 100 a year—are too much for their quiet neighborhood. The Rose Group counters that without their 20-year lease, which requires $250,000 in annual rent plus 10 percent of the revenue from their events, the church would not be financially able to remain in their landmarked building.
The battle has worked its way through several court cases and has come to rest most recently on the approval of a beer and wine license for 583 Park, the subject of which caused intense debate at the meeting.
Residents spoke of double-parked cars and the clatter of loading and unloading for major events at the space. Employees of the Rose Group and 583 Park summoned letters of support from their high-profile clients and from neighbors who don’t have any qualms with the events.
After several complicated court battles, the SLA will no longer grant individual single-event licenses to caterers at 583 Park, which is how they’ve been operating for the past few years. Now they’re hoping for a beer and wine license, which they say will still limit their business, but without which they would potentially have to close.
That would be good news to several board members who expressed their disapproval of 583 Park.
“This is definitely an invasion of our neighborhood and the use of our sidewalk streets in a residential neighborhood,” said board member Michelle Birnbaum.
Other board members cited the long history of complaints from the community as reason enough to deny the application. Many characterized the operation as out of character with the neighborhood, but some said that the bustle of activity is to be expected anywhere in Manhattan.
“There are huge disruptions in this community, this direct area, outside of this church,” said board member Jonathan Horn, citing the multiple film shoots that go on every year as well as the summer street closures and maintenance of the Park Avenue malls.
“We live in New York City; even in a residential area, there are disruptions,” Horn said. He cited the fact that 311 complaints are way down, which the Rose Group touted as an improvement and opponents said was not a clear indication of their ire, as they had simply given up on calling, as proof that the situation has gotten better over the years.
“I find that very indicative of the fact that the Rose Group, whatever the problems at the beginning, that they’ve acknowledged—and I would say that I personally saw, initially, issues where they were taking over the streets, the sidewalks—they have done their best to fit in and accommodate,” he said.
The criteria for a beer and wine license is much less stringent than for a full liquor license. According to the State Liquor Authority, “Community opposition alone is not sufficient to disapprove an application” that isn’t subject to the 500-foot rule (which this application is not). The SLA may take the community board’s objections, if the full board votes down the application, into consideration, but they aren’t bound to follow it.
“If we say no, they walk out of here and they go to the SLA and they take their chances,” said board member Barry Schneider. “However, if here the community board uses its wisdom to say, ‘Let’s say yes but with conditions, with stipulations that they will have to adhere to,’ if they get their beer and wine license, then they will be held to a higher authority than the community board; they will be held to the SLA.”
The committee voted against the approval of the license for 583 Park, though not unanimously. The issue will reach a final full board vote on Wednesday, July 18.
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