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Councilmember: Open Restaurants has no negative environmental impacts

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | The city is sticking to its position that Open Restaurants has no adverse environmental impacts, and that an adequate environmental review of the contentious program has been done.

With the full City Council finally set to vote Thursday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. on making the pandemic-inspired program permanent, Councilmember Marjorie Velazquez, the bill’s prime sponsor, said the legislation is good to go, environmentally speaking.

But opponents of the outdoor dining program are demanding that a proper, full-scale environmental impact study, or E.I.S., be conducted.

Velazquez told The Village Sun that an environmental review of the program that was done by the city’s Department of Transportation back in June 2021 has simply been “updated.” Two years ago, D.O.T. issued a terse, two-page “negative declaration,” stating that, “No significant effect[s] upon the environment that would require the preparation of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement are foreseeable.”

During a tour of roadway restaurant sheds in Greenwich Village in March 2022, Councilmember Christopher Marte showed Councilmember Marjorie Velazquez a puddle of unearthly-looking, dark “mystery sludge” that had collected between two of the shacks. (Photo by The Village Sun)

The original negative declaration — which focused exclusively on noise issues — stated that a program called Mediating Establishment and Neighbor Disputes NYC (MEND NYC) would be created and a “code of conduct” instilled in restaurant operators, both to ensure that noise from roadway dining sheds would be kept down. In fact, according to D.O.T., the dining sheds, or “streeteries,” as some have dubbed them, would actually be even quieter than traditional sidewalk cafes.

Per the June 2021 D.O.T. negative declaration: “These measures would inform the potential licensees [of] the noise-related rules and regulations they have to adhere [to], give the community and the potential licensees [an opportunity] to mediate their noise issues, and enhance the enforcement when the established noise levels are exceeded. With these improvements, the noise from the newly introduced outdoor restaurant seating areas are expected to be comparable or lower than the noise from the existing sidewalk cafe program. Therefore, the proposed project would not result in significant adverse impact for noise.”

Speaking to The Village Sun on Tuesday, Velazquez said the D.O.T. negative declaration was “recently updated and everybody seems to be O.K. with it.”

Back in March 2022, Velazquez was led on a tour of conditions in Greenwich Village’s “Shed City” by Councilmembers Christopher Marte and Erik Bottcher and members of Community Board 2. She was treated to views of puddles of mysterious sludge, garbage bags heaped and crammed between dining shacks and a viral video of rats wildly scampering about in the bubble shed of Tacombi tacos, at Bleecker and Cornelia Street.

Told of the councilmember’s response, Leslie Clark, the spokesperson for the ad hoc group CUEUP (Coalition United for Equitable Urban Policy), was flabbergasted. In March 2022, State Supreme Court Justice Frank Nervo, ruling on a community lawsuit against Open Restaurants, declared that a full-scale environmental review was required for the sprawling program.

Basically, the D.O.T. cursory review that only considered noise impacts was woefully inadequate, Nervo said, decrying the city’s failure to do a full E.I.S. as “arbitrary and capricious” and “unlawful.” Conditions like sidewalk clearance for pedestrians, trash, rodents and impact on emergency vehicles’ ability to respond to fires and other situations were not mentioned in the original negative declaration.

Former C.B. 2 Chairperson David Gruber stopped to buttonhole Marjorie Velazquez as they passed through a pinchpoint in front of Carroll Place wine bar on Bleecker Street. The restaurant shed there was actually sitting on part of the sidewalk. (Photo by The Village Sun)

The city appealed Nervo’s verdict and an Appellate Division panel subsequently ruled that the plaintiffs’ case was “not ripe” since the legislation to make the program permanent was still pending.

The Village Sun requested that Councilmember Velazquez send the newspaper the updated negative declaration and is still waiting for it.

“This is not an environmental review,” Clark scoffed in response to Velazquez’s saying the flimsy two-year-old review had been updated. “The one in 2021 was the one the judge struck down.”

However, Clark added, “I’m not the slightest bit surprised they would do something like that.”

Meanwhile, a full-bore E.I.S. can take more than half a year to properly complete — which is at least the amount of time that a review of a program of this scale requires, the activist said.

“Changing a city the size of New York takes a long time,” Clark said. “It should take a long time. That’s called an environmental impact study — and they haven’t done that yet.

“The entire program has been ‘self-certified’ by the city: ‘We think that’s fine,'” she said. “That’s how they’re doing it.”

Activist Leif Arntzen talked to Marjorie Velazquez about the dining sheds’ quality of life impacts, including noise, on Cornelia Street as Leslie Clark of CUEUP, right, walked nearby on the tour. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Another concern of shed foes is whether, as the city maintains, the roadway dining structures really would be phased out in late 2024, following a grace period. Basically, the shed haters say nothing in the new legislation specifically bans structures with rooftops — as in the current sheds that are out there now.

However, Velazquez told The Village Sun regarding the roadway dining setups, “They can’t have a roof and they have to be removable — open-air with removable chairs and tables.”

Under the new legislation, sidewalk restaurant seating would be allowed to operate year-round, but roadway dining would only be so-called “seasonal” — although with quite a long season, as in most of the year, from April to to November.

CUEUP’s Clark said if the City Council votes to O.K. the permanent Open Restaurants legislation, then the plaintiffs would go right back to court on Friday since their lawsuit would then be “ripe.”


  1. Michael M. Michael M. August 3, 2023

    I just saw CM Velazquez on NY1. I didn’t know who she was in advance. I actually thought while watching her that she was the official spokesperson for the bar & biscuits lobby.

    Non-compliant sheds would have to come down by November. Not end-of-August. Not September. Not October. Not even 2023. 2024!?! Srsly? There’s a better chance the Mets will be competitive by “2026.” (Per owner Steve Cohen!)

    Then I tripped over this article.

    What a shameless shill. The shekels must be worth it.

    P.S. Please see my related piece in the Westview News.

  2. Josh Spodek Josh Spodek August 3, 2023

    Giving public space to restaurants leads to their landlords raising rents, which leads to higher prices in the restaurants (not money going to the staff or for better quality ingredients) AND higher rents for neighboring shops, which means more empty storefronts and chain stores replacing local shops.

    Instead, we could do what Queens did with 34th Avenue, making many streets designed for pedestrians: Or even better, like Amsterdam, which was once overrun with cars:

    • Ali Ali August 3, 2023

      The restaurant shacks/street dining needs to end — for sure.

      But with respect, Amsterdam is not easy for pedestrians (especially elderly pedestrians) as bicycles have the right of way — and use it.
      But it would be great to tear down all the high-rise buildings here and have a lovely city like Amsterdam with historic low-rise buildings.

  3. Fed up New Yorker Fed up New Yorker August 2, 2023

    Start an investigation into how much restaurant lobby is donating to these politicians!

  4. ALT ALT August 2, 2023

    Velazquez and other Council representatives, the restaurant lobby and bicycle lobby are just like the GOP in their hypocrisy, dishonesty and corruption.


    • Fed Up New Yorker Fed Up New Yorker August 2, 2023

      Except they’re all Democrats.
      Investigate the campaign donations from the restaurant lobby!

  5. A Bronx Cheer for Velazquez A Bronx Cheer for Velazquez August 2, 2023

    Of course, there is not a single one of these sheds anywhere near Velazquez’s home in the Bronx. Hypocrite much, Marjorie?

    In fact, there are more Open Restaurant sheds in Community Board 2 than there are in her entire borough of the Bronx.

    It is the likes of Valazquez who give politicians a bad name.

    • Lars Lars August 3, 2023

      A Modest Proposal:
      Set up a food cart with music in front of MV’s home.:)

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