NYC community boards had until Sept. 28 to decide whether to be in favor of a permanent open restaurant zoning text amendment that would remove geographic restrictions on where sidewalk cafes can be located, a part of a plan to make al fresco dining permanent in all corners of the city.
Despite contestations from some on Community Board 7, the board voted in support of the permanent open restaurant zoning text amendment by a 17-5 margin; three board members abstained from casting a vote.
“Why is it that the Bronx is missing out on these sidewalk cafes?” said board member Sarah Erickson. I see that they are all over Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens … I think the geographic limitations just doesn’t seem fair to the Bronx.”
CB7 is comprised of the Bedford Park, Fordham, Jerome Park, Kingsbridge Heights, Mosholu Parkway, Norwood and University Heights sections of the Bronx. If approved, the program will allow restaurants to continue to use the sidewalk adjacent to — and curbside roadway space in front of — the restaurant for outdoor dining.
However, without approval, the program — which the city says saved an estimated 100,000 jobs at more than 11,000 participating restaurants — is set to expire at the end of 2022.
Under the program, the implementation of both sidewalk and roadway cafes are now administered by the DOT. The NYC Open Restaurant Program eliminated the lengthy Department of Consumer and Worker Protection review process for outdoor dining, which also included potential review by Consumer Affairs, the City Council and community boards.
Outdoor dining was a lifeboat for most restaurants in New York City since 2020, faced with either shutting their doors or adapting to restrictions on indoor dining caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
With no fee to enter, more than 11,000 restaurants are currently participating in the Open Restaurant Program, according to city officials. However, just 11 of NYC’s 1,500-recognized sidewalk cafes through the program, are in the Bronx.
The city designates three types of sidewalk cafes: enclosed, unenclosed and small unenclosed sidewalk cafes.
All but one of the 11 sidewalk cafes in the Bronx is classified as unenclosed cafes, meaning they are sited on the public sidewalk in front of the restaurant that is constructed predominantly of light materials.
Some CB7 board members expressed concerns that the prevalence of sidewalk cafes and roadway cafes could increase the borough’s pollution problem, increase noise complaints and limit needed pedestrian sidewalk space.
According to DOT Commissioner Hank Gutman, all restaurants with ground floor space are eligible to apply for year-round access to sidewalk or roadway space. Outdoor dining spaces must be ADA compliant and will be subject to clear path and siting criteria and distance from obstructions.
For roadway cafes, setups will be allowed in parking lanes except for certain prohibited zones, and the setup must maintain public safety with access to hydrants and visibility of traffic signs.
DOT officials told the Bronx Times that the project, if approved, will be finalized sometime in late 2022 or early 2023. In the interim, restaurants are allowed to operate their outdoor dining spaces until winter 2022.
At its Sept. 2 Land Use Committee meeting, Bronx Community Board 8, in contrast, did not support the text amendment, that “the proposed DCP zoning text change should be rejected as premature and open to more questions and concerns than it usefully addresses.”
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bronxtimes and Facebook @bronxtimes.