NYC Council approves permanent outdoor dining; Mayor Adams expected to sign it into law

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Thursday, August 3, 2023
NYC Council approves permanent outdoor dining bill
The New York City Council will make outdoor dining permanent in the city, after approving a bill on Thursday. Sonia Rincón has the latest.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The New York City Council will make outdoor dining permanent in the city after approving a bill on Thursday, but some changes will come with it.

The Committee on Consumer and Worker Protection passed the bill 7-1 Thursday morning and the full council voted 34-11 to approve it.

Outdoor dining has been a controversial issue in recent years, with critics complaining about sanitation issues, noise, and fewer parking spaces.

Mayor Eric Adams celebrated the passage of the bill, and was expected to sign it into law.

"Outdoor dining is here to stay in New York City - and after decades of deliberation and a temporary program that showed us so much potential, I'm proud to lead the administration that will deliver a superior permanent outdoor dining product to New Yorkers and all those visiting the five boroughs," he said in a statement on Thursday.

However, one big change is the dining sheds will have to be removed and replaced. Under this bill, sidewalk seating will be allowed year-round.

Supporters say it replaces the pandemic emergency rules for outdoor dining with something less restrictive and less expensive than what existed before restaurants had to go into survival mode during COVID.

"When those sheds came up, it was a space for folks to actually sit in and dine," Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez said. "And they were looking at a full year because we didn't know how long things would last. Our reality is different now."

Before the pandemic, sidewalk cafes were only seen in Manhattan because of zoning, but now, people in other boroughs will be able to enjoy it.

The new roadside setup will have to be removable since it will only be allowed from April until the end of November. The City Council will have to set more guidelines on exactly what this setup should look like.

This will make the permits cheaper, and the process easier for restaurants owner who apply for outdoor and sidewalk dining.

But not everyone is happy about the changes.

"We use fans, and we use lights, and we use heaters in the winter and make it as comfortable as we can for people and if that's gone people are just sitting on a dirty New York City street and that's not always desirable," Hold Fast bartender Kevin Lynch.

It makes any debate about heating outdoor spaces moot, since they can't be enclosed, and they'll have to be out of the roadway for four months out of the year in the winter.

"So the bill has a lot of compromise but at the end of the day, it is so much better than the pre-pandemic Sidewalk Cafe law," said Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. "It's more inclusive for small restaurants throughout the five boroughs. It'll cost less. There's going to be less red tape and bureaucracy. Is it perfect? No, but so much better."

The Department of Transportation will be in charge of permitting and enforcing the guidelines.

Hearings to nail down specifics are expected to happen by the end of the year so it's not clear yet if outdoor dining will be out of the roadway by this winter.

"I've heard from companies that want to build these beautiful modular roadway structures, install them and remove them during the winter months and store them, refurbish them, come, set them back up," Rigie said. "But that's something that is basically a conversation and a design process that's going to happen with the Department of Transportation."

All restaurants will have to apply to the DOT to keep what they have and most will have to modify it.

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