Biz groups divided on outdoor dining 1

Applications for outdoor dining spaces will have less red tape, according to the City Council.

After months of negotiating, the City Council and Mayor Adams have reached an agreement to make outdoor cafes low-cost and nearly year-round fixtures citywide.

Breeana Mulligan, a spokeswoman for City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica), said by creating a permanent outdoor dining program the Council has created more opportunities for restaurateurs to cut through red tape so they can benefit from sidewalk cafes.

“We have been centering affordability for our prized small businesses in these efforts, while ensuring that a permanent outdoor dining program for our city strikes the right balance for restaurants, neighborhoods, and all New Yorkers,” Mulligan said. “The Council continues to work with the administration and all stakeholders to advance an affordable, equitable, and successful permanent outdoor dining across the five boroughs.”

In February, the Council voted to allow some roadways and sidewalks to have outdoor cafes for seven months out of the year, excluding winter months. Initially, the Mayor’s Office wanted fees of $100 per square foot for the eating spaces, but after three months of deliberations with his office, a four-tier fee schedule of $6, $10, $18 or $31 per square foot for sidewalk cafes was agreed upon. The different price points are based on the control rent per Census tract.

Roadway dining costs will be $5, $8, $14 or $25 per square foot.

Tom Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, said he is happy to hear of the development, and looks forward to getting more details about the program.

“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to show that the mayor and the City Council can in fact work together on something that unites us all, and that is the restaurant scene and business in all of New York City,” Grech told the Chronicle.

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, agreed.

“The new law will cut the red tape and fees for restaurants to participate when compared to the overly restrictive pre-pandemic sidewalk café licenses, which excluded so many restaurants throughout the five boroughs from offering al fresco dining,” Rigie said in a statement. “We look forward to working through the additional details of the program with the city to address issues that are important to restaurants and the communities they serve, but in the meantime, New Yorkers should go out and celebrate with a meal at an outdoor café!”

Along with removing zoning restrictions, primarily in the outer boroughs, and reducing costs for the program, red tape was cut in the application process to make joining the program easier.

Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, was split on the measure.

“We all love outdoor dining and the benefit to our restaurants,” Brown said via email. “My only concern is that the outdoor space be fair. In some cases, business located next door to a restaurant allowed the outdoor dining to take over in front of their store.”

Brown also wants regulation for restaurants that don’t maintain a clean space and for noise control.

John Choe, executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, was also divided on the measure.

“While the Council’s move to a permanent outdoor dining program is a welcome move, the burden of annually uninstalling and reinstalling sheds that costs upwards of $10,000 or more will be a significant burden on small business owners in neighborhoods like Flushing, Queens,” Choe, said in a statement.

Laura Rothrock, the president of the LIC Partnership, shares Choe and Brown’s concerns.

“Outdoor dining continues to serve as a critical lifeline for our vibrant restaurant community as they continue to recover from the pandemic, and we welcome the permanent outdoor dining program the city is proposing as we head into the warmer summer months,” Rothrock said via email. “We hope the final program the city implements will include a fair inspection process to ensure compliance and cleanliness of our streetscape, place reasonable limits on fully enclosed dining structures since patrons are more willing to sit inside establishments during the colder winter months and the program will only be in effect April through November, and also ensure speed-to-market so that restaurants are licensed as quickly as possible as soon as the legislation is signed into law.”

Glenn Greenidge of the Downtown Jamaica Business Improvement District, and the Rev. Simone Lord, the executive director of the Southeast Queens Chamber of Commerce, were not available for comment.