Changes to 125th Street’s sidewalk cafe rules proposed

125th street street cafe. Image: Courtesy of NYC Department of City Planning.

Amendment would tighten sidewalk cafe regulations within Harlem’s Special 125th Street District to address local congestion concerns. On June 7, 2011, the City Council’s Land Use Committee approved the Department of City Planning’s proposal to modify sidewalk cafe regulations within the Special 125th Street District in Harlem, Manhattan. The Special District comprises 24 blocks of East, Central, and West Harlem generally bounded by 126th Street to the north, 124th Street to the south, Second Avenue to the east, and Broadway to the west. All types of sidewalk cafes are currently permitted within the Special District, which was created in 2008 as part of the 125th Street rezoning plan to encourage local arts and entertainment uses, and to ensure that future development along the corridor respected the area’s built character. 5 CityLand 53 (May 15, 2008).

The proposed sidewalk amendment is a response to community concerns expressed during the Special 125th Street District rezoning’s public review regarding the impact of outdoor cafes on sidewalks with high pedestrian traffic.

As proposed, the zoning text amendment would have prohibited all enclosed and unenclosed large sidewalk cafes within the Special District. No sidewalk cafes would have been allowed opposite predominately residential areas or on blocks with high pedestrian traffic. This would have included the Core Subdistrict, an area bounded by Frederick Douglass Boulevard and a point 545 feet east of Malcolm X Boulevard that includes the Apollo Theater and Touro College. The plan would have only allowed unenclosed small sidewalk cafes on portions of 125th Street and the avenues outside the Core Subdistrict.

The proposal would impact Manhattan Community Boards 9, 10, and 11. CB 10 approved the proposal, but requested that unenclosed sidewalk cafes be permitted along the avenues within the Core Subdistrict. CB 11 requested additional time to comment, and CB 9 did not comment.

No one opposed the proposal at the City Planning Commission’s August 2010 public hearing. Following the hearing, however, CB 11 recommended that the Commission permit unenclosed large and small sidewalk cafes on additional blocks located east of Fifth Avenue.

On May 11, 2011, the Commission modified the proposal to loosen some of its restrictions. Among the modifications, unenclosed large sidewalk cafes would now be permitted along the east side of Malcolm X Boulevard between West 125th and 126th Streets. The Commission noted that this block features large sidewalks and has evolved into a local “restaurant row” with Chez Lucien and the Red Rooster restaurants. Small sidewalk cafes would be permitted along the west side of Malcolm X Boulevard between West 124th and 125th Streets in front of a planned mixed-use development. Because of the blocks’ commercial character, unenclosed small sidewalk cafes would also be permitted along the north side of East 125th Street between Park and Third Avenues, and the east side of Lexington Avenue between East 125th and East 126th Streets.

No one opposed the proposal at the Council’s Zoning & Franchises Subcommittee hearing. The Subcommittee and the Land Use Committee unanimously approved the plan, and the full Council is expected to vote on the proposal at its June 14 stated meeting.

Council: Hearing on Special 125th Street District Text Amendment (N 100373 ZRM – text amendment) (June 7, 2011).

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