City Council Approves Zoning Text Amendment for Permanent Open Restaurants Program

The zoning text amendment will allow the operation of sidewalk cafes in areas previously excluded under the zoning text. Image Credit: NYC DOT

City Council still needs to pass legislation establishing the program. On February 24, 2022, the City Council voted to approve the zoning text amendment that will remove geographical restrictions where sidewalk cafes can operate across the city. This vote completes the first step in the creation of a permanent open restaurant program. 

The temporary open restaurants program was established to help struggling restaurants offer safer outdoor dining options during the pandemic. The temporary program expires at the end of 2022, and a new permanent program will need to be established by the start of 2023. To create a permanent open restaurants program, changes need to be made to the zoning text, local laws and administrative rules. The zoning text restricted where sidewalk cafes could operate, and generally excluded many neighborhoods in outer boroughs. 

The zoning text amendment removes these restrictions, but will not go into effect until the entire permanent open restaurants program passes through the City Council and establishes its administrative rules. 

On February 17th, the Committee on Land Use voted to approve the zoning text amendment, the amendment was modified to remove the Department of Transportation as the designated agency for rulemaking and implementation of the program, and replaced it with “authorized agency.” The City Planning Commission approved of the changes on February 23rd. 

The final vote was 43 in favor, six opposed, and one abstention. Council Members James F. Gennaro, Robert F. Holden, Ari Kagan, Darlene Mealy, Inna Vernikov, and Kalman Yeger opposed the zoning text amendment, and Council Member Mercedes Narcisse abstained. 

The City Council still needs to approve its legislation to establish the program, which was introduced jointly with the zoning text amendment earlier this month. For CityLand’s prior coverage of the public hearing, click here.

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams stated, “The temporary Open Restaurants program was established at the height of the pandemic by emergency order and provided a critical lifeline to restaurants throughout the city, saving small businesses and jobs. As our city seeks to recover, this zoning change is the first step in creating a permanent program that is better organized and regulated, more equitable, and balances the health of our restaurants with the needs of local neighborhoods. This will require feedback and input from various stakeholders, which we will continue to gather over the coming weeks and months.”

Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Chair of the Committee on Land Use stated, “As the city navigates its future in a post-pandemic world, we must recognize the successes of programs like open restaurants that had a tremendous impact in reviving the hospitality industry while saving thousands of local jobs in the process. Now that we have approved the zoning changes that will pave the way for a permanent outdoor dining program, we must use the valuable feedback we received from New Yorkers at our Land Use hearing to craft legislation that balances the needs of all stakeholders.”

Council Member Marjorie Veláquez, Chair of the Committee on Consumer and Worker Protection, stated, “Today is a great first step as we continue to find a more permanent solution for Outdoor Dining in New York City. Since becoming the Chair of the Consumer Affairs & Worker Protection Committee, I have said we are not seeking perfection but participation and partnership, today’s vote feels like the first step of progress in finding that solution. I look forward to continuing to work with Speaker Adams, Council Members, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, community groups and all stakeholders to find a resolution.”

By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the CityLaw fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2018.)


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