Dutch Kills residents hope an influx of sidewalk cafes will rejuvenate the area. A majority of Community Board 1 members, representing parts of Long Island City and Astoria, support the plan, but would like to see both enclosed and unenclosed cafes, as well as a ban on any tables under elevated subway tracks.
The Department of City Planning proposed a zoning amendment for the avenues — not the streets, in an effort to manage noise — to permit restaurants to set up tables outside their establishments.
“We had a long, heated debate, but we support the cafes on the avenues, but would like to have the noise not continue down the block,” Dutch Kills Civic Association President Dominic Stiller said at a CB 1 meeting on Jan. 15.
“Hopefully this will bring the neighborhood back from where it is,” born-and-raised resident of Dutch Kills Richard Madrid said.
Businesses in Dutch Kills, the section of LIC centered around Queensboro Plaza bounded on the north by 34th Avenue, on the south by Bridge Plaza North, on the east by Northern Boulevard and on the west by 21st Street, cannot apply for sidewalk cafe licenses because of old zoning laws. The amendment seeks to remedy that, according to Department of City Planning spokeswoman Penny Lee, who spoke at the meeting.
The changes, if approved, will reach over into other parts of LIC as well as along Vernon Boulevard and the most southwest section of LIC, called Hunters Point.
“The sidewalk cafes currently on Vernon Boulevard and Jackson Avenue are technically illegal because of zoning,” Lee said.
The amendment would only allow unenclosed sidewalk cafes. Planning Chairwoman Amanda Burden has stymied the installation of enclosed sidewalk cafes since her appointment. Board members disagree with the sentiment and asked the commission to re-evaluate the ban.
“The chairwoman really doesn’t like enclosed sidewalk cafes,” Lee said. “They are permanent structures that take up a lot of space.”
Another issue at the meeting was putting temporary patios under elevated subway tracks. Several board members said they were always under the impression that sidewalk cafes were banned there, but Lee said that was the first she had heard of the rule.
“We know,” CB 1 Chairman Vinicio Donato said. “We probably have the most sidewalk cafes in the borough.”
In the past the board has voted against some sidewalk cafes — especially on 30th Avenue, where 20 of the neighborhood’s 53 cafes live — because of volume and noise complaints. Astoria’s sidewalk cafes make up a good chunk of the 88 in Queens, according to the Department of Consumer Affairs.
“We need people,” Jean Cawley, a Dutch Kills Civic Association member, said. “We need a more lively neighborhood.”
Not everyone agreed. During the last few years a developer has built a nine-story boutique hotel that abuts Dutch Kills resident Mary Cavallo’s backyard. She said the windows open out and she worries objects could be tossed out the openings into her backyard posing a safety hazard. That, in addition to noise from cafes, brought her to the CB 1 meeting.
“We need some quiet,” she said.