Public Cafes OK’d in Water Street Corridor Arcades

Lower Manhattan Arcades Modification Text Amendment. Image: Courtesy of NYC Department of City Planning.

Planning seeks to enliven privately owned public spaces along the Water Street by allowing tables and seating.

On May 4, 2011, the City Council’s Land Use Committee approved the Department of City Planning’s proposal to permit public and cafe seating within arcades along the Water Street corridor in Lower Manhattan. Arcades are privately owned, publicly accessible covered areas along the perimeter of commercial buildings that were developed in exchange for a floor area bonus. The arcades were intended to provide pedestrian shelter from inclement weather and relief from congested sidewalks. The Special Lower Manhattan District currently requires that the arcades remain free of obstructions.

According to Planning, the arcades have not functioned as originally intended and have negatively impacted the corridor. Planning proposed the zoning text amendment to enliven the underutilized arcades by permitting publicly accessible tables and chairs in these areas. The proposal would apply to 23 blocks along and nearby Water Street between Fulton and Whitehall Streets. Seventeen buildings in the area feature arcades.

The amendment would require that at least 40 percent of available tables included within an arcade plan be publicly accessible, while the remaining tables could be used for private cafe seating. In order to activate the corridor, a  minimum of 50 percent of the  public seating would be required to be  within 25 feet of Water Street. The proposal specifies requirements for circulation paths, furniture,  and hours of operation.

At the City Planning Commission’s hearing, representatives from Manhattan Community Board 1, Borough President Scott M. Stringer, and the Downtown Alliance BID spoke in  favor  of the  amendment. Jennifer Hong,  deputy director of land  use at the Borough President’s Office, pointed out that the proposal would not  require signage to indicate that the seating was publicly accessibility. Hong noted that table or waiter service could lead to the perception that the arcades were for private use. She recommended that Planning apply  “heightened scrutiny”  when reviewing arcade plans to ensure that they  promote public accessibility. No one spoke in opposition and the Commission unanimously approved the proposal.

There  were  no speakers in opposition at the  Council’s Zoning & Franchises Subcommittee hearing. Local Council Member Margaret Chin stated that the  Downtown Alliance BID had expressed interest in helping local  businesses and  property owners supply tables and chairs for the arcades. The Subcommittee unanimously approved the amendment, and the Land Use Committee followed suit. The full Council is expected to vote on the proposal at its May 11 stated meeting.

Review Process
Lead Agency: CPC, Neg. Dec. Comm. Bd.: MN 1, App’d, 34-0-0
Boro. Pres.: App’d
CPC: App’d, 12-0-0
Council: Pending

Council: Lower Manhattan Arcades Text Amendment (N 110193 ZRM – text amend.) (May 4, 2011).

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