Sleepless Inwood Residents Mount Anti-Noise Campaign

For some Inwood residents, sleep is becoming increasingly rare.

A vocal group of frustrated residents including Katherine O’Sullivan calls itself Moving Forward Unidos, and complains about a recent surge in neighborhood foot traffic, brought on by Inwood’s drink-friendly restaurants and bars.

“I just want to return to the quiet enjoyment of my home,” said O’Sullivan. “I want to know that I can sleep at night.”

In the first half of 2013, New York City officials granted over 60 liquor, beer, and wine licenses to Inwood businesses, up 50 percent from 2008.

“When a number of these types of businesses open, especially close together, they create an atmosphere of lawlessness,” said O’Sullivan. “Their loud patrons screaming and laughing and yelling keep me awake.”

In conjunction with the increase in liquor license grants, New York’s 311 hotline—which tracks the number of residential noise complaints filed with the service—listed a record number of community grievances against clubs, large parties, and street noise in August. From September 15 through September 21, Inwood residents north of Dyckman Street filed over 30 noise complaints against restaurants and bars. In 2013 to date, Inwood dwellers have lodged more than 20,000 noise complaints, nearly a third more than were filed in the same time frame just five years ago.

O’Sullivan, who lives in an apartment building adjacent to Inwood’s Mamajuana Café, has lodged over 150 noise complaints against the restaurant with 311 this year. She said that the police don’t understand how to handle the situation.

“Officer Fargas of the 34th precinct phoned and offered to come and a take decibel reading after 2am,” O’Sullivan said of her most recent (Sep. 14) noise-related incident. She added that officer was unable to register the noise of the café’s bass on his decibel reader, but said it was loud enough to keep her awake.

Residents like Nancy Preston, founding member of community activist group Moving Forward Unidos, agree with Smith’s assessment of the problem.

“The noise is absolutely from the growth of restaurants that play loud music,” she said. “We believe that the restaurants have a place here—a valuable one—but they must be good neighbors.”

One of the most frequently cited noise violators is La Marina, a restaurant that residents claim operates as a nightclub. Much to some residents’ surprise, city officials recently revealed that La Marina is legally allowed to host 1,800 partygoers at a time, a number that had been cited as far lower—around 500, according to residents—at previous community board meetings.

La Marina did not respond to questions about its business, but lashed out against Inwood protestors on a Facebook event page on September 8. Following an onslaught of noise complaints lodged against the club, La Marina was forced to cancel a concert planned for (Saturday) September 14.

“Due to whatever reasons the city wants us to believe, the La Marina party is cancelled for Saturday,” the restaurant’s organizers said in a statement. “But the party must go on.”

Ebenezer Smith, Inwood’s community board district manager, said he could find no way to mediate the problem.

“It’s not easy to please everyone,” Smith said of the recent noise complaints. “The amount of liquor licenses we grant have grown due to Inwood’s recent economic boom, but we need to ensure that there is a balance. An investment doesn’t give you the right to infringe on locals.”

Many residents said they were confused about the differences between a nightclub and a bar. Different licensing procedures exist for both types of venue, and many Inwood bars and restaurants have lately been toeing the line, operating as unlicensed nightclubs, making for uncertain policing of the neighborhood’s concerns.

Preston said that she and other members of Unidos have recently begun approaching the NYPD for assistance, but were dissatisfied with the response, which she said favored the businesses over the locals.

“We resent that the resources of the NYPD and the 34th precinct are used to manage the crowds for these private enterprises on our dime,” she said.

O’Sullivan and Preston conceded that some officials have attempted to solve the conflict. Pamela Palanque North, former chair of the Inwood community board, said that she always added noise stipulations when she signed off on liquor license grants to prevent any clashes between residents and local businesses.

“The front doors must be shut when live music is being played,” she said in an email late last week. “And restaurants must get a noise level test in the apartments confirming noise decibels are within acceptable ranges when live music is being played.”

For those in search of a good night’s sleep in Inwood, Moving Forward Unidos has promised a solution. After shutting down La Marina’s September concert, the group has larger aspirations in sight with its petition aimed at enforcing the noise code—a 10 p.m. ordinance that has long been treated as more of a rule of thumb than a strict law—and neighborhood parking laws.

“Our goal is to have the laws as they exist enforced,” Preston said. “I believe that we can find a way to respectfully coexist, and even thrive.”

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