Recently, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed a plan to make outdoor dining happen year round, an effort that is fully supported by Small Business Committee Chair Councilman Mark Gjonaj.
Gjonaj’s Chief of Staff, Reggie Johnson told the Bronx Times this is a step in the right direction, but it really does not address the issue of only allowing 25 percent capacity in restaurants.
Johnson stressed that it makes no sense how restaurants in Long Island, Westchester and Connecticut can hold 50 percent, but here they can’t.
“We are calling on NYC to get parity with the rest of the state,” he said. “Most restaurants want 50 percent capacity.”
With the first public hearing for permanent outdoor dining set for Sept. 30, Johnson said there are still particulars that need to be worked out. For example, the number and type of heaters that can be set up outside.
Johnson wondered how much this will help restaurants and questioned whether patrons would want to sit outside once it started getting colder.
“Restaurants are supportive but is this enough to sustain a business?” he asked. He noted that some places have not been paying rent for months.
The city will allow restaurants to expand seating to the frontage of adjacent properties, as long as the adjacent property owners formally agree to the use of the space for a specified period of time and commit not to charge a fee for its use. The city will work with the State Liquor Authority on any requirements associated with extending alcohol service to the expanded seating in front of adjacent properties.
In early October, the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) will issue a template agreement and provide instructions on how to file the agreements. Adjacent properties may not be used prior to the release of official instructions and formal agreements.
As cooler weather arrives, the city will allow restaurants to incorporate heating elements into their outdoor dining setups. Electrical heaters will be allowed on both sidewalk and roadway. Propane and natural gas heaters will be allowed on sidewalks only and they will remain prohibited in roadway seating. Use of propane will require a permit from FDNY and compliance with FDNY regulations for outdoor use, handling and secure outdoor tank storage overnight. Official guidance on what will be considered approved installation and use of heating elements will be released before the end of September and restaurants are prohibited from installing heating elements until guidelines are released and followed.
Restaurants will also be permitted to use tent enclosures to keep diners warm. In partial tent enclosures, at least 50 percent of the tent’s side wall surface area must remain open and electrical heaters are allowed. In full tent enclosures, the tent’s side walls may be closed but occupancy limitations will be capped at 25 percent of capacity and indoor dining guidelines must be followed. Electrical heaters will also be allowed. Enclosed structures, such as plastic domes, will be allowed for individual parties and must have adequate ventilation to allow for air circulation.
As the program’s duration will now continue through the winter months and winter weather creates potential for inclement weather to impact road conditions, the city will engage the restaurant industry and other stakeholders to develop additional safety features to further strengthen roadway barriers. To ensure timely implementation, the city will require restaurant owners to comply with new safety features by Nov. 15. In addition, significant snow events may necessitate the temporary removal of some barriers from the roadway.
The city will work with the City Council to make the regulatory changes necessary to make the program permanent.