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East Siders are ‘mad as hell’ at meeting on Open Restaurants

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Updated July 14, 2:30 p.m.: Enough is enough already!

That was the message sent loud and clear by East Village and Lower East Side residents to agency representatives at a Community Board 3 meeting Tuesday night on a proposed text amendment to the city’s Zoning Resolution to make the Open Restaurants program permanent.

Locals who packed the in-person meeting said the outdoor dining program has made their lives hell for the last year — and that they were mad as hell about it.

In fact, the raucous meeting at times seemed like one extended angry outburst, reminiscent of the iconic scene from the 1976 movie “Network” in which everyone yells, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”

“The pandemic is over,” one woman said. “You are rubbing salt in our wounds.”

Another man said nights are now full of drunk revelers, guys harassing women and “mobs fighting each other from 2 in the morning till dawn.”

“I am tired of seeing my daughter in tears from not being able to sleep,” said Patrick Walsh.

As C.B. 3 member Lisa Kaplan explained, “The noise that many of us have been enduring for the last year has been really difficult. We have serious concerns about enforcement. We have small streets.”

Likening the program to a physical and sensory onslaught, audience members held black signs with yellow type that said, “OUTDOOR DINING IS HOME INVASION.”

“You can tell from this crowd, we do not want this,” one guy said when the floor was opened up to audience statements. “This is not Tampa. This is not Las Vegas! This is a residential neighborhood where people raise families.”

In making their presentation on the zoning amendment, agency officials talked about things like creating a “waiver for a 6-foot clear path” on sidewalks and preserving grandfathered restaurant and bar spaces on side streets.

A local resident said the dining sheds near her home are often commandeered by construction workers. She said she would have no problem with it if her dog peed on the feet of the shed users. (Photo by The Village Sun)

But as a couple of audience members pointed out, there was one word that all the officials glaringly failed to mention in their presentation, “residents” — as in, taking into consideration the impact the Open Restaurants program is having on the quality of life, well-being and sanity of the people who actually live in the neighborhood.

Trevor Holland, a C.B. 3 member, said, “I can’t believe I’m sitting here listening to the physical structures of this [being described] without talking about the people. We come first — not the businesses. Businesses come after.”

David Crane, a veteran board member, pointed out that the street grid of the low-scale, tightly packed East Village and Lower East Side was laid out before cars even existed.

On top of that, Board 3 is one of the most saturated with liquor licenses in the entire city.

“This whole program is going to turn our area into an open-air alcohol zone,” Crane warned, to cheers from residents. “This is not right for our district, with large amounts of grandfathered storefronts and areas with heavy commercial use, like Hell Square.”

“We’re at the start of a really complex, multipronged approach,” an agency rep explained at one point.

“The Department of Transportation was never in the restaurant business before,” a D.O.T. staffer admitted.

“They shouldn’t be!” an audience member angrily barked.

D.O.T. is the lead agency on the Open Restaurants program since the dining sheds are located in the street.

However, radio deejay Delphine Blue, who lives on E. Sixth St., said D.O.T. being made the enforcement agency for outdoor dining is a recipe for disaster. She noted that she had been trying to get D.O.T. to fix a broken manhole on her street for two years. She also noted she has 14 outdoor dining sheds on her block.

“If they can’t fix a manhole cover, how are they going to do enforcement for all these restaurants?” she asked.

Residents bemoaned the transformation of their community into what might be dubbed “Bourbon Street with yurts.”

“I love my neighborhood! I love my neighborhood!” one man started yelling emotionally over and over. But he said he lives near Yuca Bar, and Seventh St. and Avenue A, and cannot take the constant noise anymore, noting it’s damaging his “mental health.” The audience applauded him supportiveley.

One woman, in an apparent reference to the Black Death of the 14th century, a bubonic plague spread by fleas piggybacking on rats, warned that the outdoor huts could breed a repeat.

“These sheds are rat traps!” she declared. “We are feeding rats. We just went through a pandemic — we are inviting the next pandemic with these sheds.”

A resident ripped the Open Restaurants program as agency reps listened.

There was no love shown for local elected officials, none of whom personally attended the heated meeting, though at least one of their aides did. Stuart Zamsky of the E. Fifth St. Block Association said Councilmember Carlina Rivera, state Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Harvey Epstein have been no help, which he claimed was due to their not having noisy street sheds outside of their homes.

“They’re insulated from it,” he charged.

Residents described being pushed to the brink by Open Restaurants.

“I have ‘Happy Birthday’ sung 20 times every hour,” one man said of the scene outside his window. He added that he was “almost decapitated” while riding his bike and hitting an electrical wire that was stretched across a bike lane to a dining shed.

One woman who works from home complained that she is constantly surrounded by noise while in her apartment, whether from the backyard area or — now, due to the outdoor sheds — from the street in front.

“There’s never a time when they’re not outside my window,” she said.

Laura Sewell, executive director of the East Village Community Coalition, similarly spoke about the right of people like writers and therapists who work from home to have a “habitable” environment.

One of the agency presenters had noted how, in some cases, under the proposed zoning changes, businesses would be able to get waivers if they lack sufficient sidewalk clearance. However, that set off one senior, who complained about how Open Restaurants has cramped the pavement.

“The program is giving a waiver…what the f—?” she spat, indignantly. “You’re not giving me a waiver so I can walk down the sidewalk!”

Three restaurant/bar operators spoke in favor of making Open Restaurants permanent. One said it makes the streets safer by adding light and activity to the streets at night.

Meghan Joye, a former C.B. 3 member who owns three local bars, said grandfathered side-street bars and restaurants should be required to close earlier. But she said that over “the last 50 years” — meaning since 1976 — the city has given over too much space to cars. She did not give any examples of what she meant by this.

“I think it’s time for the people to take back the streets, to some degree,” she said.

Similarly, Sam Zimmerman, who said he has lived on East Broadway for 10 years, also played up the anti-car agenda —plus took it a step further by slamming the group at the meeting as “unrepresentative.”

He said he thought it was “great” that parking spots that once held two cars are now places “for dozens of people to enjoy.”

“These meetings draw an unrepresentative sample of the city,” he claimed, noting that C.B. 3 has 165,000 people and that “many [of them] support Open Restaurants.”

But his remarks only got a couple of faint claps and most in the audience just did not want to hear it.

“I’m from here!” Zimmerman insisted as he returned to his seat.

However, Diem Boyd of the Lower East Side Dwellers, countered, as others have also argued, that Open Restaurants will only help perpetuate the city’s growing monoculture of bars and restaurants. Since other types of businesses cannot get space in the street and landlords can charge more for it, the thinking goes that landlords will mainly want to rent to restaurants.

“This is a real estate grab,” Boyd said. “They’re going to kick out that little pet store. This is not equity — this is exclusionary zoning. You’re actually giving one industry a monopoly on our streets.”

She was riffing on the phrase “inclusionary zoning,” which requires affordable apartments to be built in new housing construction.

“You mention ‘restaurants, restaurants,'” one frustrated man said, noting all the so-called restaurants “turn into bars.”

One woman described being besieged by a nonstop stream of birthday parties that often start in the morning. She recalled calling her mother in absolute despair about it one day.

“These are not local,” she said. “These are people driving in for birthday parties. They literally advertise it on the [restaurant’s] site. It’s ridiculous that I have one hour to listen to the birds chirp before the noise starts again.”

There certainly was no misreading the level of anger in the room about Open Restaurants. Yet, Zamsky, of the E. Fifth St. Block Association, expressed concern that the other 50-plus community boards around the city would not see the same level of outrage during their turn in the public review of the zoning text amendment. He thus suggested that East Siders and Lower East Siders fan out to these other meetings to help get the message out.

At the end of the meeting, Michelle Kuppersmith, the chairperson of the C.B. 3 State Liquor Authority Committee, basically scolded the volatile audience for being abusive of the agency officials who came to present the city’s plan. But as the residents made clear, they feel it is they who have been abused — by the Open Restaurants program.

35 Comments

  1. zorp zorp July 14, 2021

    A bunch of cranks and NIMBYS

    • Tree Tree July 14, 2021

      Those are insults, both inaccurate. NIMBY — Not In My Backyard — refers to opponents of homeless shelters, halfway houses, affordable housing, or dump stations, for instance — to keep neighborhoods upscale. It’s a refusal to help solve problems for poor people. How does opposing sheds hurt poor people?

      “Cranks” refers to the angry people who spoke in their first opportunity to be heard on this issue?

      Please give evidence for the benefits of the sheds if you like them instead of name calling.

      • Chris Chris July 15, 2021

        No, NIMBY does not exclusively apply to those types of projects. NIMBYism comes in many forms, including those who refuse to accept that neighborhoods can change and evolve for the better of everyone and instead grasp at straws to keep people whose mindset differs from theirs out of their neighborhood, regardless of income level or housing status.

        Nice try, though. Opponents of these sheds are NIMBYs, plain and simple.

        • laura rubin laura rubin July 16, 2021

          change is not necessarily better. the EV & WV will be a rat-infested filthy place. there should be residential zoning.

      • cerqueuxles cerqueuxles July 24, 2021

        There are no benefits to these sheds…
        I guess Mr. Chris loves the filth, rodents, garbage and noise that now permeates the area.

    • LJC LJC July 14, 2021

      Do your research. The Hospitality Alliance has gotten massive federal funds for restaurants — while insisting that they be the only industry in the state that won’t pay the minimum wage. And now they want public sidewalks and public streets too. Meanwhile the landlords are jacking up the rent since they have no intention of charging nothing for the extra public property they are getting for nothing. Free public space is profit for the real estate industry.

    • Terry Katz Terry Katz August 2, 2021

      People who live in New York do not have backyards. NIMBY is a suburbo-centric term which does not apply here.

  2. EV Guy EV Guy July 14, 2021

    What was suddenly so clear was the city’s (including CB3) use of Covid social-distancing restrictions to purposely limit public input (CB3 actually closed their chat feature to residents during all meetings, while other CBs monitored the chat and addressed issues on it as the conversation naturally shifted). But, the chat in the room at this meeting could not be closed in person, and the tone of the room was apparent: People get angry when they are deprived of the basic need of sleep so that some bros can bang on tables when their team scores, and craft beer bars (disguised as restaurants) can rake in more cash. Bar owners said they needed this, but showed their greedy piggishness by not suggesting it continue for a good length of time TEMPORARILY (in order to recover). They need it to be permanent…so they can continue to advocate and pay their help BELOW minimum wage, disturb their neighbors, hinder people with accessibility issues and line their pockets forever. This is the business equivalent of Robert Moses throwing entire neighborhoods under the bus for his grand plan, or placing toxic waste dumps next to low-income areas. The rich, the politicians, or people who live in the rear or up high, who are protected from these places are fine to see others suffer so they can dine alfresco! It’s like a Brecht play.

  3. JackDog JackDog July 14, 2021

    Credit where credit is due. Transportation Alternatives in its mission statement declared that its goal was to drive the motor vehicle from the the island. Cars being the anti-Christ. Department of Transportation Commissioner — Queen of Hubris –J Sadik Khan said that Vision Zero — aptly named — was good for real estate. Essentially transferring public space to private hands.

    Opportunistic to the core TA jumped on the pandemic to promote the emergency dining sheds. Under the guise of supporting the restaurant industry, it was another way to capture — public — space for private purposes. Now TA was clearly in league with the super-aggressive real estate operatives. Making the temporary measure permanent is consistent with the M.O. of TA with bus lanes or bike lanes. Most of this without the benefit of an environmental impact study.

    Arm twisting and sophistry will suffice: Zealotry above visionary.

    Now we have sheds on the street. Tables and bikes on the sidewalk. People moving in every direction. If this and other implausible policies that disrupt public safety and sanity constitutes a Progressive paradise, I am reminded of two bits of wisdom. First, anonymous: “When young if you’re not liberal, you don’t have a heart. When older if
    you don’t become conservative, you don’t have a brain.” Second, W.C. Fields: “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance baffle them with bullshit.”

    • Chris Chris July 15, 2021

      The only “baffling with bullshit” is coming from the kind of absurd conspiratorial drivel you just shared here. Get a grip if you can’t wrap your head around the fact that some people in this neighborhood simply prefer vibrant street life over parking for cars. No real estate cabal is telling them to think that way — they can see it and experience it themselves.

  4. Yikes Yikes July 14, 2021

    egregious problems with outdoor dining aside, is it really OK to throw around “exclusionary zoning” when talking about quality of life issues, when in every other context ever the term has referred to a white supremacist practice of systemic racial and economic discrimination to deny people of color access to housing and wealth?

  5. Salacious Crumb Salacious Crumb July 14, 2021

    was it just a “riff” on inclusionary zoning, or an attempt to equate these bar problems with racial justice fights?

  6. Tree Tree July 14, 2021

    Excellent coverage of a hot local issue. Thank you.

  7. JS JS July 14, 2021

    New York City’s emergency outdoor dining program was meant to help restaurants survive the pandemic. It was never meant to be permanent.
    Day and night, Open Restaurants deliver constant noise, mounds of trash, rats, fire hazards, blocked sidewalks, and impassable streets. Firetrucks, ambulances, and other emergency services can’t access homes on narrow neighborhood streets. These problems have been there from the beginning for all to see. Yet, the Mayor and the City Council choose not to look or listen. And agencies, like the Department of Transportation, testified two weeks ago that there was no increase in noise or any other quality of life or safety issues related to Open Dining Sheds. This is demonstratively false!
    I live in the East Village, which has one of the highest concentrations of restaurants and bars in the city, most of which have outdoor dining sheds. In fact the restaurant in my building has a very large dining shed under my apartment windows often crowded with noisy, drunken patrons when the restaurant is open for business making life intolerable.
    The residents in New York City neighborhoods deserve a decent quality of life; consequently, the outdoor dining program should only be a temporary initiative to survive the pandemic and not be a permanent fixture in our communities.

  8. Carol from East 5th Street Carol from East 5th Street July 15, 2021

    Thanks for quoting me saying, “The pandemic is over” and “You are rubbing salt in our wounds” but last time I looked I was a women not a man.
    And a note for the car haters, who seem think the big issue is cars vs. restaurant sheds. First, all over the world people park their cars for free in the streets. Not an “entitlement,” just a norm.
    Second, contrary to what you may think, Manhattan car owners are not all rich, entitled, self-absorbed jerks who drive around the city doing their errands. We don’t. It’s not worth it since it is impossible to find parking! I use my MetroCard daily.
    Many car owners are workers who live in Manhattan and work elsewhere and have to drive to work, are business owners who live elsewhere and have to drive to their small businesses in Manhattan, are small business owners who live here who need their cars for work, or people who are coming to Manhattan to do business here, eat at our restaurants, visit our museums, etc. I have a car so I can visit my daughter in Queens (two trains + a bus = 2 hours travel time on public transport) and my elderly brother (2 busses to LIRR station, then the train out east) and so I can drive to to our family home Upstate. I pay for a garage because I just could no longer spend hours at night driving around and around the block, often in tears because I couldn’t find a parking spot to suit alternate side of the street parking. I had to cut expenses to afford a parking garage but I will subsist on grains, cheap wine and staycations if I must to support keeping this garage. Do not be so quick to dismiss car owners as entitled and “taking advantage of the system.”

    • Barbara C Barbara C July 15, 2021

      Thank you, Carol, for all the points you make. At current I do not have a car, but they are necessary for the reasons you cite, esp visiting family w/o lengthy public commutes, and I hope to have one again soon. Although it is very difficult to park, the sheds and excessive Citibike stations make it pretty impossible, (Citibikes could be better placed on areas with wide sidewalks, not gobbling up the street). The sheds? fuggedaboutit, the residents have spoken, and restaurants are recovering, so adios. I want the option to have a car, or a roommate/ friend with a car to help with so many things low-income or older folk cannot juggle nor afford to do, and mine was always in use to help with local/community and CBO events and projects. and hey bully Transportation Alternatives not all of us can bike.
      AND ON THE SUBJECT OF NOISE & QUALITY OF LIFE ISSUES; We need actions on the incessant and unregulated backyard (and now rooftop) parties that go on until 5 AM at times and have music and loud drunks trying to sing or be heard over the other loud drunks. We would PRAY FOR RAIN, and yet they would return. My child could not sleep or do homework and I was sleep deprived and it affects my work. When
      i did not have an AC or at least a fan to attempt to drown them out, it was much worse, but now I think the landlords that allow this, should pay my surged Con Edison bills! BE AWARE as we shut down the sheds they will ooze outside, young transients with no real roots or family in the community. ALSO so dangerous, backyard BBQs with chemical starters or gas seeping into our bedrooms. The burning smells sometimes even disguising clues to what could be a real fire.

      • VLM VLM July 15, 2021

        Barbara: You should move out of NYC. It sounds like you really hate it.

        • laura rubin laura rubin July 16, 2021

          VLM, many people cannot move. case closed.

        • anonymous anonymous July 18, 2021

          Jerk response. Providing for quality of life now that restaurants are recovering isn’t a signal to cast a local out of the city because she doesn’t like having to put up without noise or filth regulations appropriate for living in this city or any city.

  9. Choresh Wald Choresh Wald July 15, 2021

    No. People all over the world don’t park their cars for free on the street. In fact people all over the United States of America cannot believe that parking is completely free in NYC. Not in Boston, not in Chicago, not in Los Angeles, not in San Francisco. Free car storage (it is storage because it is only moved for street cleaning) needs to be abolished: Then we will not have car-based crowds trashing our neighborhood. Look at St. Mark’s Place or 7th Street when they are closed to car traffic: It is quieter, although the amount of people using the street is quadrupled.
    And thank you Michelle Kuppersmith for being the sole voice of reason in the room: Tormenting and shouting and abusing city employees instead of taking your anger at the mayor directly to him is an act of cowards.

  10. Carol from East 5th Street Carol from East 5th Street July 15, 2021

    Gee Choresh, I guess you’ve been busy taking worldwide and countrywide surveys on street -side parking. I beg to differ with your findings.
    Also if you think St. Mark’s Place is quieter on Friday and Saturday nights with no cars you have a hearing problem. I deliver food early every Saturday evening to someone who lives in a second-floor front apartment in the middle of that block. The only way she can hear her TV is with her air conditioner on (even in the winter) and with the sound on loud.
    Last week when I was on my way from the delivery, I passed by Yuca Bar (again early) and thought OMG I feel so sorry for the people who live above the bar. Music was blaring from both inside and from the kiosks, people were already drunk, dancing and singing with the music at the top of their lungs. At the meeting when the very loud and agitated man who was standing by the windows started shouting about no sleep and mentioned Yuca Bar, my heart went out to him as I knew exactly what he was talking about. No human being should have to put up with that noise. Having nothing to do with cars.

    • Choresh Wald Choresh Wald July 15, 2021

      Dear Carol,

      Google Streetview is very accessible. Go explore other cities’ parking regulations from the screen of your own electronic device.

    • NYC Born & Raised NYC Born & Raised July 15, 2021

      I don’t understand. Why do you live here? There are so many places in the world you can live that aren’t a city. They are cheaper and have better parking options and are less noisy; if you own your apartment, you can sell it for several million $s and live in a mansion in a rural environment. What is keeping you here if you hate everything that makes NYC what it is?

      • Wilson Pickett Wilson Pickett July 18, 2021

        What a crock of shit. You just attempted to apply the “love it or leave it” argument to street sheds or parking? Fuck you. How about I love my city. I’ve lived here for 40 years, and never have I seen the city government betray its residents like it’s doing now. My neighborhood has been destroyed by outdoor restaurants. And none of it is necessary. It’s just a selfish land grab for moneyed interests. Before the pandemic the restaurants in my ‘hood were doing fine, without the garbage, rats and noise now turning our streets into New Orleans on a Friday. I didn’t buy my apartment for that!!

      • JS JS July 18, 2021

        We aren’t hating everything that makes NYC what it is. The City is overstepping itself be declaring these sheds permanent, which are a noisy blight on our neighborhoods. They are also dangerous, hindering the FDNY and emergency vehicles. MANY residents have given testimony in regard to the noise, rats and garbage. These are longtime residents and deserve a decent quality of life. Furthermore, many are renters, so they don’t all have the option of selling up and moving out.

      • born&bred NewYorker born&bred NewYorker July 24, 2021

        agreed. Been here almost 60 yrs. Love NYC. Folks who are complaining about the noise can move to other blocks in city. Those that were not born here can go back to where they come from. Problem solved!

  11. Harold Appel Harold Appel July 15, 2021

    I love the sheds. They keep the neighborhood from becoming a ghost town. They sure beat just walking past all the empty storefronts of closed businesses. I wonder how many at the meeting were longtime residents or newcomers who live here for the cachet? My block is noisier than it used to be but I am not surprised after people felt locked up for a year and I’m OK with it. If rules aren’t enforced then advocate for enforcement. BTW, I’m 79 and have lived here for all but 2 of those years.

    • Proud NIMBY Proud NIMBY July 16, 2021

      You live on Stuyvesant Street. How many open restaurants are on Stuyvesant Street.
      None.
      You, sir, are a hypocrite and worse, a YIYBY = Yes, In YOUR Back Yard!

  12. Glinda the good witch Glinda the good witch July 15, 2021

    “At the end of the meeting, Michelle Kuppersmith, the chairperson of the C.B. 3 State Liquor Authority Committee, basically scolded the volatile audience for being abusive of the agency officials who came to present the city’s plan.”

    Isn’t she also the same person that had Mommy and Daddy buy her a new apartment on a quieter block cause she could not deal with the noise from the street sheds below her old building. What an absolute hypocrite she is.

    • NYC Born & Raised NYC Born & Raised July 15, 2021

      How much did your apartment cost when you bought it in the ’70s? Or are you one of scammers who’ve been paying <$500 a month due to rent control?

      • laura rubin laura rubin July 16, 2021

        what is keping older people in NY? they have rent-regulated apts, fixed income, little savings. some have medical problems & no family to go to. THAT. IS. WHY. you go live in a rural place big shot.

    • Mr Jones Mr Jones July 17, 2021

      what does her personal living situation have to do with the very reasonable request to stop acting like animals every time a public servant tries to do their job or a neighbor of yours tries to speak their mind? It’s embarrassing behavior for all involved

  13. Carol from East 5th Street Carol from East 5th Street July 16, 2021

    NYC Born and Raised: if you were asking me (Carol from East 5th Street) why I still live here I never said I hate NYC. I too was NYC born and raised and I’ve lived in the East Village for 35 years. In addition my husband grew up on the next block. I also raised a family here and love the neighborhood.
    No I do not own my apartment and I am not rent-controlled paying $500 a month. I am lucky as I am not personally affected by any noise from bars or noisy frat parties on rooftops. However I am angry about the current noise situation caused by the kiosks and the abominable assault on the peace of my less fortunate neighbors. I protest for the better good of the community because I care about others.

  14. Dorrie Dorrie July 16, 2021

    The East Village is getting inundated with crowds and the city is not providing extra cleaning crews and garbage removal. My daughter begged to get gnocchi at one of her favorite places but the walk from the train was disgusting. At 11 a.m. in the morning St Marks Place is covered in garbage and reeks of feces and bleach, it’s like a Third World slum. Outdoor dining is not a problem in the rest of the city, but no other neighborhood is getting flooded with crowds every night — there needs to be some kind of crowd control/people limit, as well as much better cleanup from the city. People are frustrated for concrete reasons. Outdoor dining is easy to blame, but it’s not the main culprit.

  15. George Evergreen George Evergreen July 29, 2021

    Reading the article and comments, Yuca Bar sounds lit! Gotta check it out soon.

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