Neighbors Don’t Take
To the ‘Friars Way’
The New York Friars Club may not get the last laugh this time.
In celebration of its 100th birthday, the club requested that 55th Street between Park and Madison avenues be renamed Friars Way.
But Community Board 5, fed up with a saturation of renamed streets, voted to deny the members-only entertainment club its birthday request.
“I think these street blades are a stupid idea,” said board member William Daly at the board’s May 13 public meeting, using the jargon for streets renamed along a single block. “They give City Council members something to do.”
Other board members had more specific reasons for denying the application.
“We don’t want to get into the habit of giving out street blades to every organization that asks for one,” said board member David Diamond. “They add visual pollution to the streets.”
The Friars Club sees the purpose of the street blade a little differently.
“We want to let the world know that we’ve been in existence for 100 years,” Jean-Pierre Trebot, the club’s executive director, told The Observer .
Club membership ranges from $500 to $2,100 per year, depending on age. Currently, there are 1,200 card-carrying Friars Club members.
Despite its steep membership rates, the Friars Club sees itself as a contributor to New York City culture.
“The Friars Club has a long history of community service,” said Mr. Trebot. Among its various charitable contributions, the club hosted a post–Sept. 11 roast of Playboy poobah Hugh Hefner, raising $500,000 for the Twin Towers Fund. “For a little organization like us, it was not bad.”
But for some board members, civic-mindedness was the last attribute to be associated with the Friars.
“It is a private club,” said board member Judith Breidbart. “It can exclude whoever it chooses.”
The club will move on with plans to rededicate its East 55th Street home, which it has occupied since 1957; bury a time capsule to be opened by club members of the future in 2104; and roast “Mr. New York, also known as Donald Trump,” said Mr. Trebot. “The comedians are salivating.”
The board was more receptive to these antics.
“They’re a great organization,” said Mickey Schwartz, co-chair of the consents and variances committee, which drafted the resolution. “A tribute to them would not be out of order.” But Mr. Schwartz’s support wasn’t enough to sway the majority of the board, which voted to deny the application.
It’s not the end of the road for the Friars, though. They will now take their request to the City Council-only without the board’s blessing.
“Hopefully, the City Council will appreciate the Friars in a better way,” said Mr. Trebot. “[The club] deserves a little recognition; it deserves a little respect.”
Houses of worship may soon rub up against houses of sin in some New York City neighborhoods.
In what will appear to be a curious reversal since the Giuliani administration limited the places where an adult business could locate in order to keep them away from churches, schools and other virtuous daytime institutions, a new zoning amendment is making its way through the city’s community-board circuit that would allow religious establishments to set up shop within 100 feet of adult stores in light manufacturing zones.
Currently, the restrictions in residential zones-designed to keep adult stores away from churches-also restrict where churches can go.
At its May 12 meeting, the board passed a resolution supporting the amendment, which addresses zoning restrictions for community facilities in all five boroughs, with reservations.
“A church is a church is a church,” Edward Rubin, the chairman of the board’s land-use committee, told The Observer . “Does it matter where you are as a worshipper? If it was your parish, you may be offended.”
The board urged the City Planning Commission to establish the same 500-foot distance requirements for light manufacturing zones, or M1 zones, as it currently requires for residential zones.
Currently, houses of worship-previously referred to as “churches” in D.C.P.-speak-are not permitted at all in M1 zones.
“[The amendment] allows houses of worship to relocate in a manner that is less restrictive,” said Rachaele Raynoff, a spokeswoman for the D.C.P. “They now have more flexibility than before.”
There is only a smattering of M1 zones in Board 6’s district, mainly along the F.D.R. north of 34th Street. But the new regulations would affect many other Manhattan neighborhoods, including parts of Chelsea and the area south of Bryant Park.
There is mounting concern among board members that M1 zones-which are increasingly mixed-use with the influx of residential loft conversions-will soon become a zoning free-for-all.
“All [the zoning amendment] is going to do is generate more X-rated businesses,” said Mr. Rubin. “I don’t think they’re opening too many churches these days. This is just loosening the regulations for adult shops.”
“Constitutionally, there has to be a place for everyone to go,” countered Ms. Raynoff. “If we foreclose all of the areas where [adult stores] may locate, that causes a constitutional problem for [the churches’] freedom of speech.”
Following the lengthy review process and a public hearing in June, the new regulations will take effect as early as this summer.