After 2 a.m. on October 31st: an example of the noise from 131 Berry Street from inside Marie Elena Martinez’s apartment with the windows closed. Another neighbor yells twice to “turn it down”
North Brooklyn’s busier thoroughfares were the first to blast the siren call of its nightlife scene, but as the neighborhood develops, the quantity of peace and quiet quality has been ebbing away everywhere. There are ways to protect the peace: perseverance and documentation are essential.
For the past four years, residents (on and along the intersection of North 7th and Berry Streets) have complained about the noise level coming from Diviera Drive and its successor and current entity, Gran Torino (131 Berry Street). This restaurant/bar/music venue once was a Uhaul access point. The garage was renovated to host inside seating and the large exterior lot is fenced off to host exterior seating. The fencing is porous and unable to contain sound. Oliver Stumm, the owner of both establishments, also rents out the venue to DJs, to promoters, and for private events.
311 noise complaints from midnight to 4 a.m. report extremely loud music; shouts from patrons streaming out onto the sidewalk and into street; and delivery trucks arriving near or after midnight, loudly loading and unloading and idling for over thirty minutes.
Marie Elena Martinez has become a main spokesperson for her neighbors and herself on this issue. She has a toddler and most of her neighbors have young or school-aged children. She made several anonymous calls to 311 at first and began adding her name to the complaints on May 8, 2016. She mentioned many of her neighbors are not comfortable to speak out or identify themselves with a complaint, but they do want the noise to lessen.
In early 2018, reportedly on the advice of NYPD 94th Pct Neighborhood Coordination Officers Rivera and Levine, Diviera Drive/Gran Torino set up a 24-hour hotline so neighbors with noise issues could text the manager on duty. Stumm states the manager keeps this phone on them at all times. However, he admitted to one lapse in this practice when a new manager didn’t carry the phone, and there were several unanswered complaints that night.
Stumm insists he takes the complaints seriously. When a text complaint comes in staff investigate to identify the source and address it. If it’s a music complaint staff are instructed to lower the volume and close the windows if they were open. He states that many times the noise isn’t coming from his establishment: that boom cars, party busses, a roof party on North 6th, and deliveries to other businesses are culprits 25% of the time. After they’ve made corrections they text the neighbor back to see if the issue has been corrected. In addition, many complaints have come in when the venue was rented out. He has established stricter guidelines for those renting the space: they are only allowed to use the sound equipment that is on site – no extra speakers.
Complaints still come in after the text hotline came into being. “Why, in almost 2 years, hasn’t anything changed, then? Why do we have to wake up at all hours and call the hotline. Wouldn’t you think that they’d learn from frequent calls/texts to the line that X volume on the speakers or X windows open or the karaoke machine at X volume do X amount of noise damage to the community and not have those same problems over and over and over again? After two years of “troubleshooting” why is there still trouble if your hotline is actually doing its job?” said Martinez
“I’ve met with Officer Rivera. I’ve met with Officer Rivera and Oliver. My neighbors have met with Officer Levine, with Officer Levine and Oliver. They meet with the bar. Nothing changes,” said Marie Elena Martinez
This August, Martinez wrote to Community Board 1 in search of another way to get results. “I’ve met with Officer Rivera. I’ve met with Officer Rivera and Oliver. My neighbors have met with Officer Levine, with Officer Levine and Oliver. They meet with the bar. Nothing changes. I call 311, which doesn’t arrive on-scene until well after the noise abates and the bar closes, and then says “they don’t see sufficient evidence of the problem.” She spoke at September’s CB1 meeting during a discussion on an alteration to Gran Torino’s liquor license. After she described her situation and her hope that something would be done, the room applauded.
A neighbor of Martinez’s wrote CB1 after the September meeting, “Why should WE, the neighbors who vote, work and fund taxes here and are the root of this community have to CONTINUALLY ask someone to turn down their music? Why should WE be the ones to suffer when all they need to do is act like any of the hundreds of respectable businesses and restaurants in the neighborhood [and] have their music at a quiet level 2 vs at blaring level 11? Is the amount of profit of a place directly proportionate to their music level? No, it is not. There are plenty of other tremendously successful businesses [who] coexist peacefully with their neighbors. Gran Tornio could be one of them.”
After September’s Community Board 1 meeting Stumm said he held a meeting with his staff to make it clear that he wanted to prevent further complaints. “Two to three months from now neighbors will say, ‘Yes they’ve improved.’ We’re taking it seriously. We want the neighbors to be happy. That’s our goal now,” said Stumm.
However Martinez and her neighbors are skeptical. They’ve seen periods where Diviera Drive/Gran Torino have laid low only to pump up the volume again. “My email to CB1 was on 8/9, the CB1 meeting was 9/10, the SLA just opened an investigation in late August — YET, that photo I sent you was taken on 9/28,” Martinez responded. The photo she refers to is a picture a neighbor took at 4:02 a.m. of about 40+ patrons filling the sidewalk and part of the street with what could be drinks in some of their hands.
Michelle and Jim Rodecker, who have lived in the area for more than forty years, have addressed the noise issue so many times without result that they have lost faith that anything will change. They’ve taken matters into their own hands and installed plexiglass over their double-paned windows. The noise is still getting through. On the last Friday and Saturday nights of October they got only two hours of sleep each night. They will next install soundboard, and if that doesn’t work white noise will be added to the equation. Michelle said that weekend eight people exited Gran Torino after 4 a.m. and opened two car doors and blasted the radio. This octet danced and lay down in the street so that a bakery delivery truck couldn’t drive through and had to honk its horn. Jim called 311 on that Friday and kept the complaint number. He said, “The heavy bass is probably the problem, if he got rid of that [things might improve].” Michelle mentioned she would be going to CB1 to speak out, also adding that the noise doesn’t stop when Gran Torino closes. “Then their private sanitation company comes [which makes a lot of noise], then [Gran Torino’s] workers come out and clean the bins very nosily.” She shared that neighbors on North 8th and Berry have heard the Gran Torino goings-on and another neighbor goes away to her son’s house for the weekend to get away from Gran Torino’s noisiest nights.
The neighbors also reached out to Assemblyman Joseph Lentol. “It was their office who let me know there’s a State Liquor Authority (SLA) investigation being conducted,” said Martinez.
“Residents who have complaints regarding a bar or restaurant with a liquor license should contact Community Board 1 so their SLA Review Committee can be informed, especially when it comes time for an application renewal,” said Assembly Member Joseph R. Lentol.
“My office has received a number of complaints regarding noise and rowdy behavior from patrons at Gran Torino and its owner must address these complaints. It is important that all businesses be good neighbors. This is especially true for restaurants and bars in the nightlife industry that have an effect on the quality of life of its neighbors. The State Liquor Authority must take all community complaints and Community Board concerns into consideration. Residents who have complaints regarding a bar or restaurant with a liquor license should contact Community Board 1 so their SLA Review Committee can be informed, especially when it comes time for an application renewal,” said Assembly Member Joseph R. Lentol.
In the wee hours of October 30th, the sounds of Gran Torino’s nightlife once again invaded homes within earshot. Martinez reported her sleep was disturbed at 1:10 a.m. by loud laughing and singing plus yelling coming from Gran Torino’s courtyard, and soon after she texted Officer Levine. “I don’t text 311 anymore, I text him directly and he usually replies or dispatches someone (or himself) over there to let them know there’s been a complaint. I didn’t get a response, but then saw a [patrol] car at 1:37 a.m. that stayed there in that spot until just before 2 a.m. I could not see if they went inside as it was on the N7th side, not the Berry side. Nothing changed though, and the noise continued until near 3 a.m.” said Martinez.
As the community becomes more of a Mecca for social exploits there are ways to stand one’s ground. Learning about city standards and filing complaints when those standards are shattered are the starting steps. “The New York City Noise Code balances the important reputation of New York as a vibrant, world-class city that never sleeps, with the needs of those who live in, work in, and visit the city.” This is the opening statement on the Dept. of Environmental Protections Nose Code webpage: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/dep/environment/noise-code.page Another access point is the Department of Consumer Affairs: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/dca/consumers/file-complaint.page . CB1 and 311 are mainstays of addressing issues also.