Many pedestrians have become used to dodging tables and wait staff while navigating some of the city’s sidewalks.
Even for those who might not otherwise welcome a chance to enjoy the food from their favorite restaurant while breathing in fresh air, having such options available was vital for a key New York City industry at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
But now the city wants to make such options permanent. At least when it comes to sidewalks.
Charles Moerdler, who chairs Community Board 8’s land use committee, doesn’t seem too concerned about allowing people to continue enjoying their meals on wide sidewalks. He fears the other form of outdoor dining — the temporary structures built right on the street — could be here to stay, too. And that could be problematic.
“Some community boards have noted that both roadway and sidewalk facilities are currently authorized through 2022, and they have questioned why a permanent mandate is in order at this juncture,” Moerdler said in a letter this week to land use committee members.
“Additonally, concern has been raised based on yet another reduction in parking — particularly in relatively busy transient areas — a further impediment to the orderly flow of buses and other vehicles, haphazard construction design and safety, and liability concerns.”
Introducing the concept creates two problems for Moerdler: No one has been able to test how viable an outdoor dining option will be once it’s no longer required under public health mandates. And it’s too big of an idea for an administration like Mayor Bill de Blasio’s that is on its way out.
Even more, jurisdiction of open-air dining facilities would move from the city’s consumer affairs department to the city’s transportation department.
“Thus, residential neighborhoods will likely have concerns with late-night dining and imbibing, if only from the standpoint of noise,” Moerdler said. “DOT has demonstrated a less-than-salutary interest in neighborhood concerns, or in meeting its responsibilities in respect of properties under its jurisdiction.”
The city’s open-air dining proposal is now under public review, including soliciting feedback from all of the city’s community boards, like CB8. Advocates claim the program will remove outdated prohibitions on sidewalk cafés, support outdoor dining in more parts of the city, and even create jobs.
The city is answering questions from the public as a whole through email at email@example.com.
CB8’s land use committee returns to in-person meetings Thursday with a 7 p.m. gathering at The Riverdale Y, 5625 Arlington Ave. Anyone attending is subject to a temperature check and other COVID-19 screenings, and face masks will be required.