NYC outdoor dining a noisy, dirty ‘nightmare’ for residents fighting expansion

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They’re a little slice of Europe in the Big Apple, or noise-generating rat traps ruining the quality of life for neighbors.

The public is getting a chance to officially weigh in on outdoor dining as the city gears up to expand its al fresco restaurants and make them a permanent fixture. Opponents say they have had their fill.

The Open Restaurants program allowed eateries to stay in business when COVID-19 precautions made indoor dining off limits. The number of outdoor dining spots across the city mushroomed from 1,224 pre-pandemic to 11,500 as rules were suspended as to where they could open including in residential areas.

“I think we find it difficult when people say it’s a popular program,” said Leslie Clark of the West Village Residents Association. “It is, only if you don’t live with it.”

The association is part of a coalition called CUEUP which opposes making the Open Restaurants program permanent, saying it is handing over public streets and sidewalks to the hospitality industry.

The city says the program, which ate up 8,550 parking spots, saved 100,000 jobs.

“When this program started it was done as a temporary program to help restaurants and we were in favor of that. We felt restaurants needed it,” Clark said. “That has all changed. Restaurants don’t need it and we don’t want it.”

On one-block Cornelia Street in the West Village, nine restaurants have built outdoor sheds, she said.

“It looks like a slum,” she said. “These are shabby, horribly built things out of plywood. They are filthy.”

In the East Village, Stuart Zamsky, the head of the East 5th Street Block Association, said restaurants showed no regard for residential neighbors with sprawling set-ups, loud TVs and even outdoor sing-a-longs.

“They’re not saying they need this temporarily,” he said. “They’re being pigs. They want it forever. That is a whole different thing.”

Community boards are being asked to vote on a zoning amendment that would allow outdoor dining where it is currently prohibited. The DOT would take over the administration of the Outdoor Restaurants program and eateries would need to apply and follow as-yet unspecified rules.

The new program would not launch until 2022 or 2023 and the costs to restaurants to participate hasn’t been announced.

At a contentious Lower East Side community board meeting earlier this month, opponents jeered as city officials explained the proposal. The board’s vote, which is advisory, will come in September.

“My neighborhood was quiet until this program began. Now it’s a nightmare,” said Linda Jones, a Community Board 3 member. “There are people drunk, reveling in the streets, fighting each other, harassing women and even harassing any passerby until 4 in the morning. We cannot sleep.”

One opponent said it seemed as if the city was favoring one industry over all others.

“I have a small business. No one’s allowing me to expand for free into the street,” said Kerry Beauchemin, who owns an East Village design shop.

Another resident said rodents were also enjoying an alfresco feast.

“There are rats that live under them. We are feeding rats,” said Alexis Adler. “We just went through a pandemic. We are inviting the next pandemic with these sheds.”

In Brooklyn, Shannon Phipps, the head of the Berry St. Alliance in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, said it seemed as if the community was an after-thought in setting up the restaurant program.

“We have some really big offenders, restaurants that are just totally disregarding the fact that community members live there by hosting amplified music and hosting things outside,” Phipps said. “When you walk by, you see the inside is totally empty.”

Andrew Rigie, the head of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, said the group wants “an outdoor dining program that works for restaurants, workers and communities.”

A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said the program was “here to stay.”

“It has made this city more vibrant than ever. We’re happy to discuss ways to make the program stronger in the long term, but make no mistake: a stance against outdoor dining is a stance against this city’s recovery,” said Mitch Schwartz.

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