All Powerful Moderator
New York is moving to make outdoor restaurant sheds permanent, but some activists are fiercely opposed.
Making Streetside Dining Permanent
The coronavirus pandemic moved New York City’s restaurants onto the sidewalks and into the streets. Now the city is moving to make a variation of its Open Restaurants program permanent. In July, the city proposed a change to zoning rules that would permit restaurant structures at the curb to stay up indefinitely. Officially, they are only temporary now. The city expects to begin taking applications for the permanent structures late next year.The restaurant industry, one of the city’s economic tentpoles, is doing better now than it was at the beginning of the year, when the New York City Hospitality Alliance said that 92 percent of restaurants could not pay the rent. Still, Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the alliance, said that only about two-thirds of restaurant employees have returned to work since pandemic restrictions on dining were eased. Restaurants added only 3,000 restaurant jobs in August, the fewest in any month this year, he said.
Complicating the picture for restaurants were two incidents last week. One involved an Upper East Side restaurant that has a shedlike structure at the curb. A 28-year-old man was shot while having dinner outside. The police said he got into a struggle with one of two men wearing masks who jumped out of a sport-utility vehicle and approached customers in an attempted robbery.
The other incident underscored the continuing tensions over vaccinations, as well as restaurant workers’ new frontline roles in dealing with regulations. The police arrested three women from Texas who they said had punched a hostess at Carmine’s, an Italian restaurant on the Upper West Side. The police said last week that the women had been vaccinated.
The lawyers said the brawl began after two men who joined their party could not provide similar proof.
Justin Moore, a lawyer for one of the women, described the altercation as “mutual combat” and said that the hostess had used a racial slur. But Carolyn Moore, a lawyer for the restaurant, said by email that “nothing about this incident suggests race was an issue.”
A “wild, wild West atmosphere”From an urban planning perspective, Open Restaurants was not about keeping customers plied with entrees, desserts and drinks — and thus keeping restaurants in
business. It was, and is, about how public spaces in the city can be used.
Daniel L. Doctoroff — a former deputy mayor who is now the chief executive of the urban-innovation company Sidewalk Labs — argued in an Op-Ed in The Times in July that planners “need to think bigger than dining sheds,” noting that he was “not anti-shed” but “pro-public space.”
Opponents say that making outdoor dining permanent would compound neighborhood headaches.
One neighborhood where opponents have been particularly vocal is the Lower East Side — “an incubator of what not to do,” said Diem Boyd, the founder of the community group. She complained that outdoor restaurants have contributed to an “open-air nightclub, wild, wild West atmosphere.”
Opponents like Ms. Boyd and Cue-Up, an alliance of community groups whose full name is the Coalition United for Equitable Urban Policy, maintain that the Open Restaurants plan would amount to a “land grab” for restaurants. Micki McGee, a member of Cue-Up, said that permanent outdoor restaurant facilities would also create “a streetscape populated by restaurants that are no longer serving the neighborhoods but are serving as tourist attractions.”
Worse, Ms. Boyd said she was concerned that the city’s plan would drive out retailers. “The mom-and-pops that you love, the tailor shop or the vintage shop, they’re going to go, because the landlord is going to say ‘I can put a cafe in there, I can have the roadbed, increase the rent,’” Ms. Boyd said. “It’s going to kill small businesses.”