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Board members say Fresh Meadows bar is illegal

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Members of Community Board 8 have complained that a Fresh Meadows Internet cafe that recently opened up a wet bar in the back is violating state law by serving alcohol within 200 feet of a school.

Viper, the Internet cafe/bar at 68-12 Fresh Meadow Lane, received a liquor license on May 14, according to CB 8 member Jim DeBonet, who is the executive vice president of the Flushing Heights Civic Association. The cafe is down the street from PS 173 and the Jack and Jill nursery school.

"There's a full-blown wet bar in the back, and it's open till 3 a.m. That's inappropriate as far as I'm concerned," DeBonet said. "There's a comic book store next door, and our concern is it's going to be a hangout for the youth."

But Stanley Chin, a lawyer who represents Viper, said the establishment, owned by Jonathan Chang, is 230 feet from PS 173 and not violating any state codes. Moreover, the establishment gave CB 8 notice that it was opening a bar, and a receipt attached to the notice was signed and returned by a member of the board, Chin said.

"You can't file for a liquor license until 30 days after you've given notice to the community board," Chin said. "We have a signed receipt from the community board, so why are they complaining now? Why didn't they complain before? They got the notice. And it's beyond 200 feet from door to door."

According to a state Alcoholic Beverage Control law, establishments are not allowed to sell liquor within 200 feet of a building occupied as a school, church, synagogue or other place of worship, said Mark Anderson, a spokesman for the state Liquor Authority.

DeBonet said he took a measuring tape to calculate the distance between the bar and PS 173 last week and found that the two premises were 145 feet 8 inches apart.

Discrepancies between DeBonet's measurements and those done by the Viper establishment may be due to differences in the exact locations from where measurements are taken and the routes of the measurements.

The distance between premises should be measured in straight lines from the center of the entrance of the premise to be licensed to the center of the nearest entrance of the school or place of worship, Anderson said.

The distance between Viper and the Jack and Jill nursery school is irrelevant because the state ABC law does not apply to nursery schools, Chin said.

DeBonet found the distance between the nursery school and Viper to be 70 feet.

Joel Shulman, the principal of PS 173, said children walk past the Internet cafe/bar regularly to get to a deli and pizza place down the street and while going to and from school. He said he had not heard of any incidents at the establishment but thought it should be investigated to make sure it is legal.

"If it shouldn't be there, it shouldn't be there," Shulman said. "I can't say it's a problem yet, but it's a concern."

DeBonet said members of CB 8 have sent a letter to the State Liquor Authority commissioner asking for a review of the establishment. A copy of the letter was sent to Councilman Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows).

Anderson said the State Liquor Authority is obligated to investigate any complaints of violations, but he could not comment on any pending investigations.

If a licensee has made a false material statement on its application, it would be subject to disciplinary action, including revoking its license and a civil penalty, Anderson said.

Chin said his client decided to open a bar when he saw that there were a lot of adult customers at the Internet cafe who said they wanted to have a facility for drinking.

"We're not bothering anybody. There's no noise complaint," Chin said. "And it's been approved by the Liquor Authority."

The Internet cafe at Viper is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The bar is open from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.

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