Old City split on future of nightlife

A dispute is brewing between Old City’s residents and businesses over something very central to the neighborhood’s identity: nightlife.

The neighborhood already has a long-held moratorium on new restaurants and bars — unless the city grants a variance or an existing one is replaced in the same location. But the prohibition would be made more restrictive under proposed zoning code reform expected this fall.

“The way the old zoning code worked, you could apply for a variance for food use. It was like a wink and a nod, ‘If we like your use, then we’ll let you do it,’” Old City District board member and bar owner Avram Hornik said. “The new code has a variance process, but the standard is so high that it’s almost impossible to overcome.”

The Old City Civic Association supports the rigid ban. “We have over 80 liquor licenses. How many is enough?” said zoning chair Joe Schiavo. “The reality is we had enough back in 1990.”

The split, according to Zoning Code Commission executive director Eva Gladstein, comes down to quality of life concerns.

“[The Old City Civic Association] feels having more would damage their quality of life and the vibrancy of their community,” said Gladstein. “The Old City District feels that in order to continue to be a vital neighborhood, they have to be open to investment.”

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