Mayor grabs privately owned public spaces for dining outside

De Blasio also lets restaurants, retailers use waterfront areas

Mayor Bill de Blasio with 1 Central Park West and 1 Court Square (Getty; APOPS@MAS)
Mayor Bill de Blasio with 1 Central Park West and 1 Court Square (Getty; APOPS@MAS)

Mayor Bill de Blasio is suspending the rules for private property.

No, he hasn’t gone full socialist. Rather, he has temporarily ended zoning regulations so restaurants can use privately owned public spaces, known as POPS, and public waterfront areas for outdoor dining.

The nearly 600 POPS can now be transformed into dining areas, health screening stations, retail stands and other uses, according to an executive order signed by de Blasio Saturday. Waterfront public access areas — where seating, walking paths, trees and public amenities are usually required — can also be used for dining and retail stands, according to the order.

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POPS owners must submit to the city details of proposed changes to their spaces. Businesses looking to use waterfront space must do the same.

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Privately owned public spaces are often required as part of approval for new office towers in Manhattan. Typically they are open during business hours, although some developers, including President Donald Trump, have been criticized for making their POPS hard for the public to get to or even find.

In response, the City Council passed a measure in 2017 to ramp up oversight of POPS.

The mayor’s decision to ease zoning restrictions comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo mulls whether to postpone allowing restaurants to resume indoor dining at half capacity. Cuomo said Monday he would announce his decision Wednesday. Indoor dining had been expected to resume July 6 as part of phase three of reopening.

Also on Monday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced that his state would indefinitely suspend the start of indoor dining, which had been scheduled for Thursday. He blamed blatant signs that New Jerseyans were ignoring social distancing and cited other states’ spikes in Covid-19 cases tied in part to indoor dining.

Write to Kathryn Brenzel at