Home » New York City Will Make Outdoor Dining Permanent, With Caveats

New York City Will Make Outdoor Dining Permanent, With Caveats

New rules passed by the City Council on Thursday will organize the haphazard but popular outdoor dining structures, but will force their removal in the winter.

Outdoor dining along New York City streets, one of the rare pandemic-era accommodations that proved popular, is set to become permanent — but in a way that could drive many restaurant owners to take down their streetside sheds for good.

Under a bill passed by the City Council on Thursday, restaurants will be allowed to continue to offer outdoor dining in roadways under a new licensing system. But those structures will have to be removed for the winter, and reconstructed in the spring — a requirement that some restaurateurs say will be a costly and onerous burden.

The bill, which has the support of Mayor Eric Adams, aims to strike a balance by retaining a popular al fresco program while regulating it more closely, allowing for the clearing of abandoned or ugly dining sheds.

Still, some restaurant owners have expressed outrage about having to remove and store outdoor dining structures from Nov. 30 until March 31, which will take away a dining option for patrons, especially those who are immunocompromised or otherwise Covid-conscious. Smaller restaurants in particular could find it too expensive or cumbersome to participate.

Charlotta Janssen, the owner of Chez Oskar, a French bistro in Brooklyn, said her restaurant might not be able to employ as many workers over the winter without business from outdoor dining, giving them less job stability.

“It’s really disrespectful to restaurant workers and treating them like they’re expendable,” she said.

Ms. Janssen, an artist, had erected a unique steel outdoor dining structure that looks like a rolling wave.

“If I have to take it down, where am I going to store it?” she said. “I think they’ve oriented a lot of their rules on the complaints and not on the good outcomes. People love our outdoor dining.”

Under the bill, the city’s Transportation Department will set basic design guidelines that have yet to be determined. Restaurants can offer outdoor dining from 10 a.m. until midnight and will, for the first time, be required to pay fees based on their location and square footage, with higher fees in Manhattan south of 125th Street. Restaurant owners will have a phase-in period stretching to as late as November 2024 to comply.

The bill will likely reduce the current footprint of outdoor dining, which soared to include more than 12,000 restaurants and bars since June 2020. In Paris, a similar policy shift contributed to a drop in participants, from about 12,000 restaurants to 4,000.

A judge’s recent order cast some doubt on the legality of the emergency outdoor dining program the city created early in the coronavirus pandemic, and Mr. Adams, a Democrat, had urged the City Council to approve the bill.

“Millions of New Yorkers and visitors to our city have enjoyed the outdoor dining experience, and the judge’s order makes clear that the time to pass a permanent program is now,” Charles Kretchmer Lutvak, a spokesman for the mayor, said in a statement. “Outdoor dining is part of the fabric of our city, and it is here to stay.”

Marjorie Velázquez, a City Council member who sponsored the bill, wrote in a recent opinion piece with the leader of a major hospitality group that the legislation was a compromise after “months of difficult negotiations.”

She said that she hoped to see a “niche market develop of companies that build and sell beautiful modular streeteries and store them for restaurants in the off-season at a reasonable price.”

Ms. Velázquez said that it was “time to say goodbye to the fully or nearly enclosed roadway structures” and that they would soon have shorter hours of operation and sanitary standards.

Some restaurants have supported the City Council bill. A group of leaders of more than a dozen restaurants, including Dirt Candy and the Bronx Beer Hall, sent a letter to City Council leaders this year saying that outdoor dining was a lifeline during the pandemic and urging them to approve the legislation.

Not everyone, however, is a fan. There have been complaints that outdoor dining structures are eyesores or that they take up too many parking spaces and create too much noise and trash.

The City Council speaker, Adrienne Adams, had previously raised concerns about roadway dining and its impact on parking, and said that she preferred sidewalk cafes. On Thursday, Ms. Adams said the Council had taken its time “moving so carefully” to strike the “proper balance” on the legislation.

“There is a place for both types of outdoor dining,” she said.

The bill also requires restaurants in historic districts or at landmark sites to obtain approval from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission for an outdoor dining site — an added burden for restaurant-heavy neighborhoods like Greenwich Village.

The city began allowing restaurants to open dining sheds in the streets under a series of emergency orders early in the pandemic. On Tuesday, Judge Arlene P. Bluth of New York State Supreme Court ruled that those orders were no longer justifiable.

“There is no longer an emergency or disaster under any common-sense application of that term,” she wrote.

The ruling means that the city can no longer accept new applications for the current outdoor dining program, city officials said. Last month, the city received about 60 applications.

Kate Slevin, executive vice president at the Regional Plan Association, an urban policy group, said the City Council bill was “not 100 percent perfect,” but that the city needed to make outdoor dining permanent and the bill had many good rules.

“Creating a program like this permanently is such an important moment in New York City’s history for people who care about seeing our streets as more than just thoroughfares for traffic,” she said.

Robert Sanfiz, the executive director of a nonprofit that runs La Nacional, a Spanish restaurant on West 14th Street in Manhattan, said he was worried that only the most successful restaurants will be able to afford to follow the new rules. He said it could cost $25,000 to rebuild his restaurant’s elaborate outdoor structure.

“I’m OK with seasonal dining, but I find it stunning that they want us to remove the structure entirely,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many bushes and trees are going to meet their demise.”

Source : NYTIMES