A Fifth Avenue café creates cross-district imbroglio

Councilmember Rosie Mendez is enraged that a controversial café application was approved in a neighboring district

A postcard of a previous sidewalk cafe at The Site And 24 Fifth Avenue and Councilmember Rosie Mendez
A postcard of a previous sidewalk cafe at The Site And 24 Fifth Avenue and Councilmember Rosie Mendez

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