The Open Restaurants program, a lifeline for small business owners during the pandemic, has achieved a rare feat in New York City politics; uniting just about every demographic imaginable — including registered Democrats and Republicans — in popular support, according to polling.
As it turns out, not everyone is on board.
While the City Planning Commission heard testimony Wednesday about making the Open Restaurants program permanent, a coalition of Downtown Manhattan lawmakers and community leaders voiced their opposition to what they called “wholesale ceding of public space to one private industry.”
Under the proposed text amendment, restaurants seeking sidewalk cafe space would not have to go through local community board review.
A joint statement issued by State Assembly members Deborah Glick and Harvey Epstein and the chairs of Community Boards 1 and 2, among other officials, called for stricter limits on outdoor dining, arguing that the amendment as it stands would bring about an “unmanageable program throughout the city” and warning of “harmful quality of life intrusions.”
Concerns cited by the group include safety and accessibility, insufficient design guidelines and increased noise, rats and trash.
“While New Yorkers accepted the temporary measures during the worst parts of the pandemic in order to support restaurants which are vital to our economy, it is wrong to bypass local community review and give up public spaces which will be difficult to get back,” Glick wrote.
Responding to criticism Thursday, Glick, whose district includes Greenwich Village, Soho and Tribeca, further articulated her stance on Twitter.
“Born & raised & educated in NYC only hate it looking like crap,” she wrote.
Introduced at the beginning of the pandemic, the Open Restaurants program lifted zoning restrictions to allow eateries to set up tables and chairs on the sidewalk or in street parking spaces.
The program has been hailed as a savior for establishments as customers took advantage of outdoor dining year-round. Brooklyn Borough president and Democratic Mayoral nominee Eric Adams has credited it with “reinvigorating city streets,” while City Council president Corey Johnson called it a “common-sense measure” that should be made permanent.
Originally set to expire last October before returning the following summer, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in September 2020 that the program would be extended indefinitely.
Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, which represents restaurant owners, said the organization looks forward to working with City Planning, the Department of Transportation and community stakeholders on creating a sustainable and permanent Open Restaurants program.
“Open Restaurants helped save thousands of small businesses from shuttering, it’s credited with saving 100,000 industry jobs, and providing New Yorkers the opportunity to safely socialize while dining alfresco over a great meal during the Covid-19 crisis,” Rigie said in a statement.
Before the text amendment can be implemented, it must pass through City Council, where it has the support of Members Ydanis Rodriguez, Keith Powers and Antonio Reynoso.
“The success of this program should encourage us to continue exploring and expanding on initiatives that will help New Yorkers reclaim their streets,” Rodriguez, who chairs the Transportation Committee, said in a statement Tuesday.