On July 19, the Albany Board of Zoning Appeals received an application from John DeJohn to extend the hours of two of his restaurants, Legends and DeJohn’s (286 and 288 Lark Street), from 2 AM until 4 AM.
On July 20, the Lark Street Residents Quality of Life Committee held its first meeting. Lark QLC represents residents from four Albany neighborhoods: Center Square, Hudson Park, Park South, and Washington Park. Each area has a neighborhood association, but Lark QLC seeks to bring members of various groups together to work on issues that transcend neighborhood property lines.
Despite the timing of the group’s first meeting, the members downplay the DeJohn’s application and speak more generally about quality-of-life issues. “There’s a huge range of folks living here who care about the area,” said Stephanie Richardson, membership chair of Lark QLC. To Richardson and others, quality of life means a diverse region that is clean, safe, and whose historic qualities are preserved.
“The buildings here are typically 100 to 150 years old,” said Tom Clark, a Lark QLC member.
“Time, effort, a lot of caring goes into taking care of these old places,” added Richardson.
“A lot of money too,” said Clark. “People have been here 35 to 50 years, they have stake in their investment.”
In this mixed-use community, the business and residential districts are one and the same. The close proximity to eateries, shops, and bars is one of the pros of living here, but it can also be a con.
“The main issue right now is the late-night activity from bars,” said Richardson. “There’s been a real spike in vandalism and a lot of serious muggings.” Richardson and other Lark QLC members list screaming, fighting, litter, broken glass, vomit, and people urinating on their properties as some of the undesirable activities that they say happen most often after 2 AM.
Currently, the closing times of each bar and restaurant is determined by the property’s history and how it has been zoned. In order to extend the hours of operation, a business must file an application with the Board of Zoning Appeals, a division of Albany’s Department of Development and Planning.
DeJohn owns seven properties in Albany and has been a business owner on Lark Street for 12 years. He said that food sales have been down lately but alcohol sales are up, and that overall he has seen a 25 percent decrease in total sales over the last year. He believes that it is unfair that some bars are able to stay open later than others.
“The Lark Tavern was open for six months and they’re open until 4 AM, and I’ve been here for 12 years,” DeJohn said. “They were closed for a year and a half before they reopened.” DeJohn questioned the validity of the establishment’s claim to “grandfathered” zoning status, and used the example to back up his assertion that all businesses should be treated the same under the rules. “I’ll stand behind the mayor,” he said. “I’m fine as long as everybody has to close at 2 AM.”
DeJohn doesn’t live in the neighborhood, but said that he chose to invest here because it was one of the nicest areas in Albany. He also feels that he adds to the community by giving to charitable associations and by employing 300 people. “I invested my life in the city of Albany and will continue to,” said DeJohn. “If I close at 2, I probably won’t make it.”
“This neighborhood is so nice because the people who live here take such good care of it,” said Jessica Fisher Neidl, another Lark QLC member. “[The businesses and their customers] don’t clean this mess, I do.” Neidl has been asked why she doesn’t move if she doesn’t like living with the aftermath of the city’s nightlife. “That’s ridiculous. Nothing is ever made better by giving up and walking away.”
The BZA hearing for an extension of operating hours for Legends and DeJohn’s will be held at Albany City Hall on Wednesday (Aug. 22) at 5:30 PM.