Thursday, September 4, 2008
Dispute Brewing Over VFW Post’s Liquor License
Hearing During Wednesday’s CB5 Meeting
By Conor Greene
A dispute over outdoor drinking at a local VFW post has pitted neighbors who want peace and quiet, against local war veterans just trying to have a good time and relax with friends.
Members of Haspel Staab Post 551 on 60th Avenue have applied to the State Liquor Authority to extend the club’s liquor license to include the 20 foot by 40 foot paved side yard. Some nearby residents are opposed to the request and want the license to remain as is, restricting the drinking to indoors, according to Ralph DeSanto, who filed a complaint with the state and circulated a petition.
DeSanto has lived in the house next to the post’s building since 1962. He said that until two years ago, no events had ever been held in the side yard since the post occupied the building in about 1970. He claims that this year, events have regularly spilled into the yard, and also alleges that the post has rented the space out for non-member functions.
He did say that “the post has gotten quieter in August” after the state began investigating his complaint. However, he doesn’t want any outdoor drinking to be allowed. “These parties have adversely affected our families and our quality of life,” he said. “We cannot sit in our homes without what we consider excessive noise.”
A public hearing on the post’s request to expand its license will be held at Wednesday’s Community Board 5 meeting, even though it is not required, said District Manager Gary Giordano. On one side will be residents say the post’s gatherings interfere with their quality of life; on the other will be members who say the issue is overblown and has become a personal vendetta carried out by DeSanto.
As a result of the battle with some neighbors, the post has decided to put the building at 84-02 60th Avenue up for sale, according to its commander, Michael Brown. “This is so overblown,” he said of the dispute.
Brown said that the only events held at the hall this year were a Memorial Day barbecue and a party during the July 4th parade. A “small picnic” is planned for this Sunday, along with an October 18 “fundraiser for the troops,” according to Brown. He said the post “absolutely never” rented the hall out for non-member functions.
“It’s a very low key place – I would like to have them as my neighbors,” said Brown. “It’s just this guy has a viciousness against us.” He said that DeSanto’s brother was previously banned from the post for “inappropriate behavior.”
Brown said the “majority” of events are held inside the hall, with the yard mostly used for cooking. “We just wanted to get an amendment to the license in case of the Memorial Day parade, to cover our behinds,” he said, explaining that DeSanto called the police this year because of their party, but no tickets were issued.
The CB 5 hearing comes after residents supporting both sides submitted petitions, said Giordano. He said complaints “about people outside making noise is not going to get their liquor license revoked, but it might get the SLA to pay attention to them.”
The SLA wouldn’t confirm that it is investigating DeSanto’s complaints, but noted that the post doesn’t have any prior violations.
The Juniper Park Civic Association, which represents about 1,650 families in the area, opposed the post’s request in a July letter to the SLA. The civic’s president, Robert Holden, said the group has “received complaints from nearby neighbors who have stated that the post is already having parties outdoors, serving liquor and in general making noise that has disrupted the neighborhood.”
While recognizing the sacrifice made to the country by the military and the post’s “charitable efforts in our community,” Holden argues that “it is not right for this VFW Post to feel that they can disrupt their neighbors by extending their entertainment outdoors.”
The group’s vice president, Lorraine Sciulli, said in an interview that “constant outdoor partying is out of the question” and that “it is unfortunate that the VFW feels they have the right to these disruptive outdoor celebrations.”
In response, Brown said the civic has yet to approach the post directly with any specific complaints.
Thomas Monaghan, an attorney representing the post in the liquor license request, stressed that “no one has the right to use their property to the annoyance and harassment of surrounding property owners... But that doesn’t mean they can’t barbecue and sit out in the yard and have conversations and listen to music moderately. That’s what life is all about in the big city – we live shoulder to shoulder.”
For DeSanto, the solution is simple – keep the party inside. “Our block would be satisfied if the post returned to its traditional respect for the neighbors and kept the parties inside, as it has done for years,” he said. “Mike Brown is a good man who has been seeking to revitalize the post, but I think he made a mistake two years ago by bringing the noise and drinking outdoors.”
According to Brown, the post might end up leaving the neighborhood if it gets an acceptable offer for the building. “If the people don’t want us, we’re going to go,” he said. “We would really prefer not to, we want to be an asset to the community and try to help and do the right thing.”
In the opinion of Monaghan, who lives in Broad Channel and isn’t a post member, the issue has simply “gotten out of hand” and should end in an amicable manner. However, after several letters were exchanged between the post and DeSanto, the two sides were un- able to reach a compromise.
“Ironically, it was Fourth of July that broke the camel’s back, singing God Bless America,” said Monaghan. “I feel sorry for everybody as it could get messy and expensive. What’sthe point? I suggested they sit down and have a hamburger and beer and work it out. But not in the alley.”