New City Council Bill Would Make NYC Outdoor Dining Permanent

By Matis Glenn

Wade Hagenbart, right, lifts the top off a wooden support barrier for a tent he’s constructing for outdoor dining at the Taco store that he co-owns in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Outdoor dining sheds might be joining the likes of telehealth visits and remote learning and working, as another pandemic-era innovation turned permanent.

A City Council bill was introduced last week which aims to make outdoor dining areas a fixture of New York City streets.

During the height of the pandemic, city restaurants were closed to indoor dining, due to a concern of spreading Covid. Outdoor dining was permitted, and the city allowed restaurants to erect sitting areas, mostly in sheds, to accommodate customers.

Under the new bill, restaurants which apply for a license to have sidewalk structures would be able to have them open year-round, while sheds in the street would be open from April through November. Restaurants would be required to dismantle and store them away during the colder months.  

Mayor Eric Adams supports the idea. “The temporary Open Restaurants program saved 100,000 jobs and countless local restaurants at the height of the pandemic, while helping the city reimagine its public spaces,” Adams said in a statement.

Opponents of the bill point to the lack of differentiation between distinct city neighborhoods.

“The bill does not take into account that New York is made up of hundreds of neighborhoods, and not all are the same,” City Councilman Kalman Yeger(D) told Hamodia.  We cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach, because what might seem to work just fine near Central Park can easily be awful for Borough Park. Plus, allowing the Department of Transportation to run this program will ensure the chaos we’ve seen on our streets and come to expect from DOT. I will not support a bill that does not allow communities to decide their own destiny and to exclude themselves from a failed program.”

Adams, a Democrat, acknowledged that many of those sheds remain unused and have attracted vermin.

“It also left hundreds of abandoned sheds on our streets that have become havens for rats and eyesores for New Yorkers. For months, I have been saying loud and clear that outdoor dining is here to stay and we need to get it right.”

Yeger says that the initial program was enacted during an emergency situation and is now irrelevant.

“What might have been acceptable during an emergency when the city did not allow restaurants to function has certainly run its course.”

Yeger also questions why the restaurant industry alone should be given the opportunity to use public streets.

“Why should one industry get preference for use of public streets over every other retail establishment?  Can the shoe store start selling its wares in the middle of the street too?”

Others are concerned about the outdoor dining sheds taking up parking spots.

“I struggle, especially on alternate-side days, to find parking in my neighborhood,” Yonasan, a Midwood resident told Hamodia. ”First it’s Open Streets, then it’s Open Restaurants…the city council does not seem to be concerned at all about the needs of commuting drivers.”

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