City Planning Holds Public Hearing for Permanent Open Restaurants Program, Launches Design Public Engagement Process

Image Credit: NYC DOT.

Many residents and community board members complained of quality of life issues, including noise, trash, cigarette smoke, and loss of parking. On October 6, 2021, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing for the Permanent Open Restaurants program. The Permanent Open Restaurants program will formalize a process for restaurants to operate sidewalk or roadway cafes in a shortened process. The proposed permanent program follows the popularity of the temporary open restaurants program, which was created last year to allow restaurants to conduct outdoor dining in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After an emergency executive order temporarily suspended the sidewalk café rules, the temporary open restaurants program allowed thousands of restaurants to participate in outdoor dining without going through the extensive sidewalk café approval process. As of the writing of this article, 11,943 restaurants are participating in the open restaurants program. The temporary open restaurants program will last through 2022. As the temporary program was only enabled due to an emergency executive order, several changes to the zoning text, agency rules, and local law would need to be made before the program could become permanent. Including the transfer of control over sidewalk and roadway cafes from the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection to the Department of Transportation. The current proposed zoning text amendment will remove geographic restrictions on where sidewalk cafes can be located, including specific locations and existing path and other regulations. For CityLand’s prior coverage of the permanent open restaurant application, click here.

While zoning text amendments do not require the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, the Department of City Planning still refers zoning text amendment applications to Community Boards for review. CityLand has compiled community board decisions regarding the Permanent Open Restaurants program. To see those decisions, click here, and to read about the Community Boards’ arguments for and against the program, click here.

Public Hearing

At the City Planning Commission public hearing, there were many speakers in support and against the program. Speakers in support highlighted that businesses would not have survived without the open restaurants program. Andrew Rigie of the New York City Hospitality Alliance noted that this program has saved 100,000 jobs and thousands of businesses. Restaurant owner Jeffrey Bank of the Alicart Restaurant Group noted that this program has been a “godsend” for independent restaurants, and that having restaurant space on the street has made the streets safer, especially in Times Square.

Speakers in opposition shared a variety of concerns about how the open restaurant program impacts the neighboring residents and businesses. Residents and Community Board members expressed frustrations with the increased noise in residential areas, making it difficult to work from home and sleep. Individuals also commented that outdoor space at bars and restaurants with liquor licenses get extremely rowdy, especially when there is loud music. Multiple Community Board members commented that “one size does not fit all,” and that the open restaurants program works better in some communities than others. Residents also commented on other quality of life issues, such as the increase of marijuana and cigarette smoke flowing into the apartments, increased rat infestation on the streets, and increased roadway congestion.

Community members noted that other small businesses are suffering because of this program. Assemblywoman Debra Glick stated that many businesses have lost street visibility from sidewalk congestion, and are unable to get their deliveries. Community members expressed that this program is a burden only advantaging one industry.

Restaurateurs replied to comments on sanitation issues, stating that cleanliness is in every restaurant’s best interest, and that most restaurants do try to keep their areas clean. However, restaurant owners also expressed frustrations with excessive fines associated with this program, explaining that it is very hard for independent restaurants to know rules and regulations until they’re fined for violations.

Public Engagement Process

The Department of City Planning also announced a citywide public engagement process for design rules for the permanent open restaurants program. The existing sidewalk cafe program has clear path requirements that outline table and chair placement to ensure appropriate distance from fire hydrants and other businesses. While the open restaurants program has certain guidelines for structures and siting requirements, the permanent program will need to formally outline what is and is not permitted. Those new rules still need to be established, so the Department of City Planning and Department of Transportation are asking the public for their input. To provide the public with the opportunity to participate and shape the design process, there will be in-person and remote roundtables citywide this fall and winter. Details about these sessions will be available in the near future on the DOT webpage and NYC Engage.

Additionally, design and advocacy groups the Regional Plan Association, Design Trust for Public Space and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign will engage in a series of independent roundtables as part of a stakeholder outreach process.

Members of the public interested in providing feedback can also provide them now at the DOT website.

An interagency design taskforce will assist in the design and public engagement process, and will include the Departments of Buildings, Consumer and Worker Protection, Environmental Protection, Sanitation, Health and Mental Hygiene, Small Business Services, the Fire Department, the Public Design Commission, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Economic Development Corporation, the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, and the Mayor’s Office of People with Disabilities.

DCP Director Anita Laremont stated, “Getting design right is among the most important elements of our coming Open Restaurants program – for our health and safety, and for our enjoyment of New York City’s public realm. To get it right, we need input from the public – you. So please, get involved and let’s make the Open Restaurants program even better.”

The City Planning Commission will vote at a later date, and then the City Council will need to review and vote on the application.

By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the CityLaw fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2018.) and Victoria Agosta (Victoria is the CityLaw intern and a New York Law School student, Class of 2022.)



3 thoughts on “City Planning Holds Public Hearing for Permanent Open Restaurants Program, Launches Design Public Engagement Process

  1. I am completely against permanent outdoor dining. It looks awful and the garbage is unruly! If I can support the board in anyway, I will.

  2. @Diana – You can voice you opinions to your community board by writing to the District Manager and cc-ing the Land Use Committee Chair, attending CB meetings about Open Restaurants, and continuing to file 311 complaints about restaurants and bars that are violating the guidelines (and keeping a record of your Service Request number when you do). In addition you can write to your district Council Member, state Assembly Person and state Senator.
    The permanency of this program is going unnoticed by the majority of residents, who can’t be blamed for conflating it with the temporary emergency measures that were taken in response to the pandemic shutdown. Most media stories fail to draw the distinction.

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