By Lincoln Restler, Councilman for District 33
Open restaurants emerged as one of the silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic. They served as a lifeline for small businesses and restaurant workers, made socializing safely possible for immunocompromised New Yorkers, and added dynamism to our streetscape.
When he was a Council Member, now Borough President Antonio Reynoso sponsored and passed creative legislation to permit outdoor dining all across New York City and made it easy for neighborhood small businesses to participate. Based on the extraordinary response from New York restaurant goers, Antonio’s innovation for Open Restaurants demonstrated that this was exactly what New Yorkers had been waiting for.
I love taking breakfast meetings or meeting up with friends at any of the hundreds of outdoor dining structures in District 33. For example, the set up at beloved Boerum Hill neighborhood spot Rucola on Dean is just as lovely as the indoor space and has significantly expanded their seating capacity. It has been a boon for neighbors uneasy with indoor dining and a wonderful addition to the neighborhood.
However, City policies were hastily crafted on an emergency basis at the height of the pandemic and haphazard enforcement has led to numerous issues for restaurants and neighbors. We need clear, consistent regulations to ensure that the Open Restaurants program is accessible to all and bad actors are shuttered. It is time for the City Council to pass a permanent Open Restaurant program that smartly regulates outdoor dining by creating fewer guessing games for small business owners and putting forward regulations that reduce noise, improve sanitation conditions, and mitigate stormwater management issues.
Open Restaurants and Open Streets have been a gift to expanding and rethinking our public spaces, generating new and exciting ways for neighbors to come together to create community.
We are all familiar with the joy on the first day of spring when folks are filling our sidewalks to hang over a meal or coffee — but it isn’t reserved for the warm weather. Restaurant owners have found creative solutions to ensure that New Yorkers can take advantage of outdoor dining year round, and we should be doing everything we can to encourage that entrepreneurial spirit that makes New York so special.
There’s no question that city agencies can and must better address sanitation issues, noise mitigation, and stormwater management to make Open Restaurants a permanent success in our neighborhoods. We’re committed to working together with City agencies and community members to ensure the program works for everyone and to remove sheds that are used for storage rather than dining.
Open Restaurants are repurposing our streets by replacing parking spots with vital places for neighbors to come together and creating more jobs by expanding restaurant workforces. The City Council should swiftly pass legislation that maintains a permanent Open Restaurant program that includes an option to operate year round, minimizes bureaucratic barriers for restaurants, mitigates quality of life issues, and allows our neighborhoods to continue benefiting from outdoor dining.