Virginia-based AvalonBay Communities is running into trouble with its quest to open up a host of restaurants on the Lower East Side, as a community wary of liquor licenses is poised to stand in the developer’s path.
At AvalonBay’s new apartment building, Avalon Bowery Place, at 11 East First Street, just across from a similar development on Houston Street with a mammoth Whole Foods, two potential tenants have already met resistance from the community in requests for liquor licenses; and more resistance could lay ahead. Members of Community Board 3 say the board will not approve any new licenses until AvalonBay describes how it intends to fill the 18 street-level retail spots, 14 of which are yet to be finalized.
“The board wasn’t presented with an overall plan,” District 3 manager Susan Stetzer said, explaining that even though the board approved the project five years ago, it started to have qualms recently when several liquor-license applications for the same building arrived in quick succession.
A liquor license for celebrity chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud’s über-gourmet burger joint got the go-ahead last year, as did the Bowery Wine Co. a couple of doors down. But the board vetoed a Mexican restaurant’s application last fall, Ms. Stetzer said, and asked East Village Ukrainian food favorite Veselka, applying to open in the same spot, to withdraw its application last month, pending discussions with Avalon.
The community board usually avoids approving more than three alcohol-serving venue within a 500-foot radius. But it can waive the rule if it thinks the establishment will benefit the local community, something Maria Masi, Avalon’s development director, is confident the company can demonstrate.
“If they have not seen the overall plan and they only see one guy coming in and then another one and then another one, it’s just surprise after surprise,” she said.
Avalon, led by CEO Bryce Blair, plans to fill six of its 18 retail slots with restaurants. All will try for liquor licenses, the company’s broker, Michael Ewing, a principal at Williams Jackson Ewing, said. The Hamptons clothing boutique Blue and Cream opened last fall, and Mr. Ewing said Avalon is in talks with a chocolatier and a French-style cafe. The company hopes to fill the remaining spots with accessories and clothing designers and expects a lease with an “up-and-coming” T-shirt designer to close this week, he said.
“We do have a definite interest in the up-and-coming concept,” said Barden Prisant, who chairs the committee that will hear Avalon’s presentation later this month. But Mr. Prisant said he was still hoping for more community space—or at least a mom-and-pop deli.