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Council To Vote on Outdoor Dining Bill Next Month

The long-stalled outdoor dining bill is finally set to come up for a vote.

12:01 AM EDT on July 22, 2023

An outdoor dining shed. Photo: Josh Katz

A long-stalled permanent outdoor dining bill that will require outdoor street-eries come down during the colder months will finally be put to a vote early next month, two Council sources confirmed to Streetsblog on Friday.

The proposed rules allow dining in curbside lanes from April through November only, though outdoor seating on the sidewalk will be permitted year-round. Restaurants will have to get separate permitting for each.

Establishments poured tens of thousands of dollars into building elaborate sheds during the Covid-19 pandemic will have to come down by Nov. 1, 2024, according to the legislation — even though business owners have repeatedly begged to be able to keep up year-round, saying they might not set them back up every year due to cost and lack of storage space.

Opponents of outdoor dining sued the city earlier this month to end the pandemic era version of program, which was authorized under the federal Covid emergency that ended in May and thus has to be reinstated in city law.

There were just four council members signed onto the bill as of Friday — which may have spurred the New York City Hospitality Alliance, a restaurant industry group, to warn its members that the program is "at risk of total elimination" earlier this week.

"The pandemic-era emergency program will come to an end. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This bill required lots of complex political compromise but is without a doubt a HUGE improvement over the pre-pandemic sidewalk café law," the group wrote on a public webpage imploring restaurateurs to contact their local reps.

Public space advocates agreed on the need for the Council to move quickly to pass the bill.

"The bill is definitely not perfect — we believe a year-round option is best — but we can't afford to delay the vote any longer," said Sara Lind, Co-Executive Director at Open Plans, which shares a parent organization with Streetsblog.

"If we do, New York could lose outdoor dining forever," Lind added. "But once we do secure a permanent bill, the year-round option remains on the table and it's something we'll continue to advocate for."

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams opined last year that dining structures shouldn't be in the roadway, and the restriction remained when the Council finalized the legislation in May after kicking it around for a year.

The legislation's chief sponsor, Bronx Council Member Marjorie Velázquez, told News12 that the streeteries had to come down over the winter to make room for Sanitation and other utility services.

"We will have an opportunity to have Sanitation come clean it up, and also just make sure that we have access for our utilities to tend to not only emergencies but also maintenance," Velázquez said.

"We understand that was in 2020, we're about to hit 2024 and so this is a transitional period, we will give folks an opportunity to transition out of those sheds, but ultimately those sheds will have to be removed."

Ironically, though, the eatery where the pol gave her interview — Havana Café at the corner of E. Tremont and La Salle Avenues in the east Bronx — may have to give up its roadside shed under the new rules due to cost and a lack of storage space in between seasons, its manager said.

"It’s like a lot, it just doesn’t make sense," Virginia Velez told Streetsblog. "We keep it so clean and everything is so nice and neat. I’m going to miss it."

Reps for Velázquez and Speaker Adams did not return requests for comment.

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