DOT Offers Last Chance for New Yorkers to Weigh In on Outdoor Dining

DOT Offers Last Chance for New Yorkers to Weigh In on Outdoor Dining

By Yehudit Garmaise

Whether you love or hate outdoor dining, today is your last chance to contribute your opinions as the City seeks to finalize its guidelines to regulate the roadway dining structures, which were an innovation of the pandemic. 

Over time, however, the enclosed huts attracted not only rats but “bad actors who are detriments to communities,” said one member of Community Board 12 when the board voted against a change to the city’s current zoning laws to allow thousands of New York restaurants to create sidewalk cafés two years ago.

Another board member pointed out that homeless people sometimes encamp in the makeshift spaces and cause difficulties with local residents.

“The real problem with Open Restaurants,” a third board member said, “is that restaurants’ outdoor dining structures take away space from available street parking.”

“Even when restaurants utilize space on the sidewalk for outdoor dining, the tables and chairs provide blockage to the very narrow sidewalks on which pedestrians and strollers need to pass,” another participant pointed out.

 “I don’t think outdoor dining is good for our community,” a handful of board members agreed.

First called “Open Restaurants,” when launched in 2020, the City’s encouragement for eateries to build outdoor dining structures saved the jobs of 100,000 restaurant workers, while also allowing locked-down New Yorkers to dine out.

For the last 30 days, New Yorkers have been able to share their comments and concerns with the Department of Transportation, (DOT) which will finalize its guidelines so that restaurants can apply for outdoor dining licenses by early 2024.

According to the DOT’s current draft of proposed guidelines, outdoor dining will be expanded to all five boroughs, roadway dining will be available eight months out of the year, the roadway and sidewalk structures will be required to be wheelchair accessible, and they also cannot be fully enclosed: a phenomenon that continues to attract criminal activity.

After many restaurant owners complained that they were not clear on the City’s guidelines and were consequently unfairly ticketed while under lockdown, the NYC Hospitality Alliance requested that the DOT use simple language to express the rules.

“Restaurant owners need to know what they can and cannot do and how they can make sure the outdoor dining setups are beautiful and practical,” hospitality alliance representatives said, according to Brooklyn12 News. 

Restaurant owners also expressed their concerns about the costs of changing their structures to comply with the DOT’s new guidelines.

The City’s Hospitality Alliance also seeks to prevent the harassment of small businesses by requesting that the DOT revise its enforcement procedures.

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