Council scraps sidewalk cafe regulations, but roadside sheds are the topic of the day – The Village Sun

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | The city council cleaned up the plaque last week on cafe terraces.

Council voted overwhelmingly to remove all existing regulations for sidewalk cafes from the city’s zoning resolution and replace them with a new local law.

Removing decades-old, time-tested rules paves the way for a complete overhaul of outdoor dining in New York – including making permanent the contentious pavement dining sheds that were only allowed in due to an emergency executive order during the COVID pandemic.

The main effect of the zoning text change will be to remove all geographic restrictions on the location of sidewalk cafes: even quiet residential side streets will now be able to have sidewalk cafes if they have grandfathered commercial storefronts.

The vote was 43 yes against 6 no and 1 abstention. Negative votes were cast by Council members James Gennaro and Robert Holden, both Democrats from Queens; Ari Kagan, Darlene Mealy and Kalman Yeger, Democrats of Brooklyn; and Inna Vernikov, a Republican from Brooklyn.

The districts of the three council members – Erik Bottcher, Christopher Marte and Carlina Rivera – representing downtown and lower Manhattan have the most roadside sheds in the city, accounting for about 25% of the city’s total of 12,000 sheds. the city.

Both Marte and Bottcher made qualifying statements before voting yes.

Carlina Rivera did not make a statement, saying only “yes”.

Meanwhile, the city council is currently working on a new law, Intro 31, which will regulate the permanent Open Restaurants program. This law could be ready to be passed between a month and three months from now.

Hours before Thursday’s vote, Marte and Bottcher led Marjorie Velazquez, chair of the Council’s Consumer and Worker Protection Committee, on a tour of some particularly shed-laden streets in Greenwich Village, to show her the conditions that some local residents are fuming about. on. Velazquez is the council’s point person in developing the permanent open restaurant law.

President Adrienne Adams promised the City Council would “work hard to balance the needs of restaurants and the concerns of their local neighborhoods” when drafting Intro 31, which would govern the permanent Open Restaurants program.

Last Thursday’s city council vote, however, was specifically only about amending the zoning text that governed sidewalk cafes. Yet, in their remarks before deciding on the matter, council members extensively discussed roadway discounts.

Council Chair Adrienne Adams said the Open Restaurants program and the ongoing pandemic emergency suspension of sidewalk cafe rules have not only saved businesses and thousands of jobs, but also enabled to many areas beyond Manhattan to enjoy outdoor dining. She indicated that the concerns of local residents would be taken into account when drafting Intro 31.

“We will work hard to balance the needs of restaurants with the concerns of their local neighborhoods,” Adams said, “gathering feedback from the city’s many stakeholders and neighborhoods to ensure outdoor dining is fair, better regulated, and take into account many considerations. in our respective communities.

Bottcher, for his part, said: “We now have the opportunity to design a program that retains the best parts of the temporary outdoor dining program that has added so much vibrancy to the streets of our city while addressing the parts of the program which were problematic. Today’s vote is only the first step in this process.

In his remarks, Marte thanked both Velazquez and Rafael Salamanca, the chairman of the council’s land use committee, “for being really open about what’s next” about writing Intro 31. However, he recounted some of the unsightly, unsanitary, and dangerous conditions that he, Bottcher, and Velazquez had seen earlier when investigating the hangars.

“We saw 5ft high piles of trash, dead rats, abandoned and broken sheds, cars and bikes unable to come down the street and puddles of mud – we think it’s mud, it could be worse. What we have seen over the past two years is that the temporary program has not worked. We saw almost no enforcement or monitoring, so tension grew between residents and small business owners.

Marte stressed that Council legislation on permanent open restaurants “must not take a one-size-fits-all approach”. He thanked Bottcher “for truly being a partner in making sure the people of Lower Manhattan are heard and that we can improve their quality of life.”

Council member Darlene Mealy, who voted no, noted that that morning she was surprised to see someone selling clothes in one of the dining shacks.

” And it’s [a space for] parking,” she said, alarmed, noting that local residents are “practically sleeping in their cars” due to the inability to find parking spaces.

On the other hand, Mealy said the old regulations for sidewalk cafes “ensure that people didn’t take advantage of the outdoors”.

“My neighborhood doesn’t want it,” she said of Open Restaurants. “I know it has helped a lot of restaurants…. With these structures…why not leave it on the sidewalk and not on the street?

Some other board members who voted yes to the text amendment nonetheless expressed concern about the program.

Chi Ossé credited Open Restaurants as an “economic lifeline” for many small businesses.

“However, this program must ensure that our streets are for people and not for rats,” he stressed. “The growth of the rodent population has been undeniable and is clearly linked to outdoor dining, which we instituted faster than we could devise proper sanitation methods. I support outdoor dining, but we need to make sure we do it right.

In a similar vein, he expressed concern about Mayor Adams’ proposed budget cuts to the Department of Sanitation.

Linda Lee noted that community councils in her district of Queens “have raised many sanitation and quality of life issues” in relation to Open Restaurants.

Council member Gale Brewer said she was inundated with “100 emails” from concerned residents in her Upper West Side district about road structures.

In a slap in the face to diner naysayers, Kristin Richardson Jordan of Harlem called them elitists.

“I reject the inherent classism and argument that restaurants should be prevented from operating outdoor dining structures because a few elite members of the community find them to be eyesores,” she mocked. .

It’s not just some residents who oppose the sheds, however. More than 60% of the city’s community councils are also against them.

Like Mealy, other council members who voted no said their constituents were fed up with the sheds and that it was their job to represent constituents.

“The time of emergency has passed,” Yeger said, “and what we are looking at today is the future. My job is to protect the neighborhood. And in my neighborhood, these sheds have taken over the streets in a very poor.

He also called for the Open Restaurants program to be removed from the oversight of the Department of Transportation, which he said “can’t get a speed bump put down a street in three years.”

Jessica C. Bell