City Council Passes Legislation to Make NYC Outdoor Dining Permanent

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Outdoor dining in New York City will be permanent once Mayor Eric Adams signs legislation passed by the New York City Council on Thursday afternoon.

The legislation, as Council Speaker Adrienne Adams believes, strikes a balance between increasing revenue opportunities for eateries while regulating dining sheds through a permitting process and allowing street sheds to operate only between April and November.

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The council voted 34 to 11 in favor of the bill.

“We’re finding a middle ground by meeting with the community and also addressing issues that the restaurant owners face, and we’re addressing the sanitation aspect,” Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez said during a press conference. “We tailored [the fees] to four different tiers, making it comparable to the commercial corridors within the city, so boroughs like mine in the Bronx will have to pay less than certain areas in Manhattan.”

Street and sidewalk permits would be issued by the city Department of Transportation (DOT) and be revocable, giving the local government the ability to manage outdoor sheds, many of which have turned into neighborhood eyesores while well-kept structures have thrived.

Permits could cost roughly $1,050 for both street and sidewalk cafes, but it is not clear where the $1,050 stands in the overall scheme of the tiered pricing system. The program will allow permitted sidewalk cafes to operate year-round, with restaurants needing to renew permits for them every four years.

“The temporary program saved 100,000 jobs, kept restaurants afloat during the peak of the pandemic, and brought new energy and excitement to our streets and sidewalks,” Mayor Adams said in a statement following the vote. “But it wasn’t perfect — too many sheds were abandoned and left to rot, and too few lived up to our vision of what our streets should look like. And a legal ruling just this week made it even more clear: This is our moment to transition to a permanent program that works for our restaurants, our workers, and our communities.”

While many council members had concerns that the bill needs to go further in terms of enforcement of poorly kept setups, or opposed the four-year cycle, it wasn’t enough to sway many who spoke out to vote against it. Councilmember Gale Brewer, for example, ultimately voted yes despite concerns. 

Others, such as Councilmember Christopher Marte, said no to the plan on the basis that it would allow bad actors to continue with outdoor dining for years at a time.

The bill has been through the ringer, having passed through committees, lawsuits and revisions since it was introduced in February 2022, getting vocal support from Mayor Adams before reaching a full vote in the City Council chamber Thursday.

The question of when, and how, the city would integrate outdoor dining into the fabric of life in the five boroughs has been an open question since Mayor Bill de Blasio launched the Open Restaurants program in 2020 as the COVID-19 health crisis raged. Despite those questions, about 12,800 New York City restaurants and bars were operating outdoor dining sheds as of April.

The legislation drafted by Velázquez came with support from not only the mayor and the council speaker, but also from organizations lobbying for the restaurant industry.

Leading up to passage of the bill, the New York City Hospitality Alliance sent an email to its members, which represent about 24,000 bars and restaurants, urging them to reach out to their City Council members and urge them to vote in favor of the bill.

While 2020 may not seem that long ago, it didn’t take long for many of the dining sheds to become derelict and rundown. By August 2022, the city needed a palate cleanser, which prompted Mayor Adams to rally the resources of his office and have ramshackle structures hauled off.

Mark Hallum can be reached at mhallum@commercialobserver.com.