Permanent outdoor dining in NYC hits a snag

https://patch.com/new-york/upper-west-side-nyc/s/i6udi/nycs-permanent-outdoor-dining-hits-snag-after-judges-ruling?

NYC’s Permanent Outdoor Dining Hits Snag After Judge’s Ruling

A judge has thrown a wrench into the permanent Open Restaurants program, saying more study is needed before it takes effect next year.

Nick Garber,Patch Staff

Posted Tue, Mar 29, 2022 at 1:45 pm ET|Updated Tue, Mar 29, 2022 at 3:09 pm ETReplies (20)

Wednesday's ruling by Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Frank Nervo throws a wrench into the Open Restaurants program, which began as an emergency initiative during the pandemic to help restaurants stay afloat.
Wednesday’s ruling by Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Frank Nervo throws a wrench into the Open Restaurants program, which began as an emergency initiative during the pandemic to help restaurants stay afloat. (Marc Torrence/Patch)

NEW YORK CITY — A judge has sided with a group of New Yorkers who sued to block the city’s outdoor dining program, saying that a fuller study needs to be conducted on its environmental impacts before it becomes permanent.

The ruling last week by Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Frank Nervo throws a wrench into the Open Restaurants program, which began as an emergency initiative during the pandemic to help restaurants stay afloat and became permanent last month when the City Council approved an amendment to the zoning code.

While multiple studies have shown widespread support for the program, a subset of outspoken residents feels very differently, saying that the proliferation of dining sheds has clogged sidewalks, created noise problems and led to an increase in trash and rats.

Two dozen of those residents filed suit in October, saying the environmental review that the city conducted as part of the text amendment had not taken neighbors’ complaints into account. Using dramatic language, the plaintiffs said that restaurant-filled neighborhoods such as Greenwich Village and Hell’s Kitchen now resembled “a shed shanty-town,” filled with “gigantic, plywood monstrosities that are eyesores to the community landscape and character.”

Siding with the residents, Nervo wrote that the dining sheds “have, at a minimum, impacted traffic and noise levels, and may have significantly impacted sanitation.”

In the lawsuit, one Hell’s Kitchen resident objected to the proliferation of dining sheds on 10th Avenue between West 44th and 45th streets. (Google Maps)

The city did produce a 176-page environmental study for the permanent program, finding that it would have no significant negative effects. But Nervo says state law requires a fuller study — a process that could take months, according to a report by Crain’s.

In a statement, a mayor’s office spokesperson said that Open Restaurants “has been a lifeline for restaurants and workers across the city,” helping preserve more than 156,000 jobs.

“The city has been undergoing a thorough and careful process in preparation for a permanent outdoor dining program,” the spokesperson said. “We are currently reviewing our legal options.”

It does not appear that the ruling will affect restaurants with existing setups, which can remain at least until the end of 2022 when the emergency Open Restaurants program ends. The permanent program is set to take effect next year, and the city is already at work drawing up rules that will govern it.

Among the biggest changes: Dining sheds may become a thing of the past, to be replaced by roadway barriers, tents and umbrellas.

Roughly 11,000 restaurants have participated in Open Restaurants, which transformed the city’s streetscape and has been credited for saving numerous businesses.

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