By Pierce O’Reilly
Several Woodlawn community leaders say they are "fed up" with the number of Irish bars and liquor stores along the Bronx-Westchester border, an area that is popular with young Irish immigrants.
The community activists argue that businessman Rory Dolan’s latest application to establish a new bar and restaurant should be rejected, so that neighborhood families can "live in peace, once and for all."
Dolan hopes to convert two storefronts into a bar and restaurant on the corner of 236th Street and Katonah Avenue in the Bronx. The stretch of street already has eight Irish establishments. The site was previously home to the Tara Hill bar.
For the expansion to proceed, Dolan must receive license-transfer approval from the New York State Liquor Authority, which is at present reviewing his application. If it is approved, the application then goes to the city for planning approval.
In a strongly worded statement sent to the Echo this week, Woodlawn Heights Taxpayers and Community Association, Inc. said it opposes the development on several grounds. The group has successfully lobbied Community Board 12, some of whose members told the Echo Tuesday that they understood the concerns of the residents and would, if necessary, make a representation to the city on their behalf.
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Community Board 12 District Manager Carmen Angueria said the issue is being viewed with mixed emotions.
"Some people are very much against the idea of another establishment, while some say the area needs revitalization," she said. "There is a problem here at the weekends with noise, brawls and general mayhem when the bars close at 4 a.m. Something must be done. People are generally afraid that another bar would further fuel the already difficult situation."
The Community Board 12 chairman, the Rev. Richard Gorman, who served in Woodlawn during the 1980s and early ’90s, said he is keeping an open mind, but says the community’s concerns are legitimate.
"At last week’s community board meeting it was clear that people had major concerns with another bar coming to Katonah Avenue," he said. "These streets were not designed to accommodate a great deal of vehicle or pedestrian traffic. . . . The narrowness is further hampered by lack of alternate side of the street parking. The traffic flow on Katonah Avenue stops during food and beverage deliveries, garbage carting, or frequent double parking. Adding a large bar and restaurant relying on commuting patrons will further eliminate retail space that should be available to small merchants and will further aggravate the dire parking and driving situation. If Rory Dolan is as successful as he’s on McLean Avenue, then the traffic congestion is going to escalate around here."
The community board did vote in relation to the transfer of the bar license from Tara Hill to Rory Dolan last week. Nine people voted in favor of the license transfer while seven were against, with two members abstaining. The motion was not carried because local government rules state that the number of yes votes must be greater than the number of no votes plus the abstainees.
"You can clearly see that as a community we’re divided on the issue" Gorman said. "Nobody has anything against Rory Dolan himself. He runs an excellent bar/restaurant on McLean Avenue. It’s just the thought of more noise, congestion and disturbances on the weekend."
The statement the Echo received from the Woodlawn Heights group clearly states that the community is against the venture. It asked residents to sign petitions and urged them to call the Community Board representatives to register their opposition.
The treasurer of the Woodlawn Heights organization, Ken Parr, has lived in this neighborhood for 24 years. He says something must be done to clean up the image of Katonah Avenue.
"I’ve an open mind on Rory Dolan arriving," Parr said. "He’s an excellent businessman and everyone I think realizes he’s genuinely trying to improve the neighborhood. The only problem is that when up to 1,000 people pour out onto the streets at 4 a.m. on a Saturday night it causes an awful mess around here and nobody wants any more trouble."
Woodlawn heights is zoned predominantly for single-family homes and is populated by a large number of young families, retired persons and newly emigrated young Irish.
While Rory Dolan currently operates a bar and restaurant just seven blocks from the proposed site, he ran into difficulties at another location. Dolan’s JMR Restaurant Corp. attempted to open another establishment farther up McLean Avenue last year, in a shopping center. However, after the renovation began in a former Chinese restaurant, residents uncovered a statute that would have required the bar to close by midnight, something that forced Dolan to withdraw from the location.
Dolan, who opened his Yonkers bar and restaurant over six years ago, said residents have nothing to fear.
"I’ll work with the local residents in every way possible and I guarantee them that there will be no problems when people are leaving the premises," Dolan said. "It’s going to be run very professionally and if people have any concerns, they can visit me any time to discuss the matter or see how we run our Yonkers outlet."