October 27, 2021
by: Adam Roberts
Photo of the outdoor dining area in front of Sylvia's, a restaurant located in Harlem.
Outdoor dining at Sylvias in Harlem. Photo: Ajay Suresh via Wikimedia Commons.

One of the most successful policy efforts to combat the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic was the creation of the city’s outdoor dining program, known as Open Restaurants, which allows for expanded sidewalk and roadway dining throughout much of the city. While New York City Council legislation has currently extended the program run through 2022, Open Restaurants is not permanent. Furthermore, should the program become permanent, the rules and zoning changes affecting how it will function remain to be determined.

Currently, the NYC Department of City Planning (DCP) is seeking to pass a zoning text amendment that would greatly expand the number of restaurants that are eligible to have sidewalk cafes, a critical step towards making sidewalk dining permanent. Earlier this month, the New York City Planning Commission held its public hearing on the issue and will likely vote soon to advance the zoning text amendment to the City Council.

Meanwhile, opposition has mounted from elected officials and community boards to making Open Restaurants permanent, despite Siena College polling showing the program to be incredibly popular. The complaints from elected officials and community boards center on “quality of life issues” such as noise. Should DCP overcome this opposition and pass the zoning text amendment, the agency would partner with the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) to craft a single compliance scheme for both sidewalk and roadway dining.

AIA New York is strongly supportive of the Open Restaurants program. Throughout the pandemic, AIANY members have offered pro bono design services to struggling restaurants through the Design Corps; the continuance of Open Restaurants is crucial to keeping those restaurants in business. Other advocacy groups are pushing to make the program permanent, most notably the Alfresco NYC coalition, composed of the Regional Plan Association, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, and the Design Trust for Public Space. AIANY will continue advocating with its allies on behalf of Open Restaurants and to ensure that thoughtful design guidelines are implemented for the program.



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