The Real Deal New York

A Fifth Avenue café creates cross-district imbroglio

Councilmember Rosie Mendez is enraged that a controversial café application was approved in a neighboring district
October 04, 2014 11:00AM

A cross-district dispute is playing out in the City Council over a sidewalk café Application On Lower Fifth Avenue.

Last week, the City Council approved the application despite opposition from Councilmember Rosie Mendez and residents of her district, who worry about the impact the café will have on those living in the building directly above it, according to the Villager.

The Claudette restaurant, at 24 Fifth Avenue, had received the green light to open a 10-table, 20-seat, unenclosed sidewalk café. It is located in Councilmember Corey Johnson’s district.

But before that approval was given, Mendez highlighted procedural and legal concerns with the application — concerns echoed by residents in her district, whose western border sits just across the street from the café.

“There were many issues, including the fact that the city did not comply with its own guidelines and deadlines, and this application should have failed on that alone,” Mendez said in an interview last week.

An enclosed sidewalk café had existed at the site since the early 1970s but was removed earlier this year. And current zoning does not permit sidewalk cafés on this part of Fifth Avenue, according to the Villager.

Claudette had asked to use the same grandfathering clause that the previous café had enjoyed.

But the café’s opponents argue that the café was inoperative for more than two years, which would repeal its legal nonconforming use.

“I don’t think clear and convincing evidence was provided, at least to me, to make me think that a sidewalk café should be given,” Mendez said. “I also feel that somehow in this city we have zoning laws with so many exceptions to the exceptions.” [The Villager] Christopher Cameron

  • How do you research this?

    That street is amazingly peaceful and private despite its central location.

    The Village argues in a totally different way from LES:

    Fleischer, of 33 Fifth Ave., added, “What’s interesting is Johnson took the exact opposite position in a situation in Chelsea. It was pretty amazing — he didn’t even meet with us, after repeated requests to do so.”

    Last month, Johnson opposed a sidewalk cafe application in Chelsea, saying he believes that “sidewalk cafes should not be located on residential blocks, unless there is grandfathered zoning.”

    Johnson also added, however, that a cafe would bring a commercial feel to a residential block and that an approval would set an “unacceptable precedent for additional sidewalk cafes in more residential areas” — exactly what opponents fear in the case of Claudette.

    In a letter to councilmembers before the Sept. 18 committee vote, Mendez warned that approval of the application would “open up a Pandora’s box that will allow a sidewalk cafe to exist contrary to the zoning.”

  • DanL

    Why do crazy NIMBY councilpeople have any say over sidewalk cafes? They should be allowed as-of-right whenever there is sufficient sidewalk space.

    • JJ

      What do you expect from a politician ?!?!?!?