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Seeing red over sheds: Village rally turns up heat before key Council hearing on outdoor dining

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | On a freezing Saturday afternoon, anger over the city’s ramshackle outdoor dining program boiled over at a march and rally in Greenwich Village.

Chanting “Chuck the sheds!” about 100 people marched from Father Demo Square, at Carmine Street and Sixth Avenue, to Washington Square Park for speeches near the arch. Saying the Open Restaurants program served its purpose when indoor dining was limited by the pandemic, the protesters declared it’s now high time the program ended. The scheme is a blatant giveaway to the hospitality and real estate industries, speakers charged.

The emergency plan — which has seen the city flooded with thousands of roadway dining sheds — launched 20 months ago. With the return of full indoor dining and the closure of some restaurants, though, many of the sheds now sit vacant in the cold weather or abandoned in disrepair.

The city, however, is now set to make the program permanent — plus wipe out all zoning restrictions on where sidewalk cafes can be located, even on quiet, narrow side streets. The City Council will hold its one and only public hearing on the sweeping citywide issue this Tues., Feb. 8, at 10 a.m.

It’s about “fairness and equity,” Assemblymember Deborah Glick, left, said. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Among the speakers at Saturday’s rally was Assemblymember Deborah Glick, who has been among the few politicians willing to speak out against the program. She noted that Open Restaurants supporters romantically say the street sheds make New York City “look like Paris.” Yet, she said, the City of Light has taken a more nuanced approach in its own approach to outdoor dining.

Glick noted that, in Paris, the outdoor dining areas must have “movable tables” and close at 10 p.m. and are allowed from the spring to the fall.

“All the people that hung their hat on Paris,” she scoffed, “their mayor said [the program] was for an emergency.”

According to news reports, Paris is also allowing “florists, book and record stores” to apply for the so-called “summer terraces.” Parisian businesses can reportedly also apply for an “annual terrace” that is open year-round, but can only occupy one parking spot, as opposed to the three parking spots in the seasonal program. Paris also supports the outdoor dining plan as a way to reduce car parking and private cars, in general, in the French capital — an idea shared by some backers of New York City’s sheds.

(Photo by The Village Sun)

The assemblymember said Open Restaurants backes have tried to bully her on social media for daring to oppose the street-transforming plan.

“I still represent the people that live here — despite attacks on me in the Twittersphere,” she declared, as the crowd of local residents cheered in support.

The sheds, she added, also limit curbside access for deliveries, among other things, noting, “You can’t get a refrigerator or sofa delivered on a cargo bike.”

In addition, Glick charged that Open Restaurants represents a glaring lack of “equity.” Namely, the only people who use the sheds to dine out on a regular basis are those who can afford it.

“This is about equity and sharing the streets fairly,” she said, adding, “There is no enforcement. We have to talk about equity. The only people who can eat at those sheds have money. They want to talk about equity — let’s talk about equity!”

The only other elected official besides Glick at the rally was new Councilmember Christopher Marte.

Open Restaurants had their moment, but now must be reined in, Councilmember Christopher Marte said. (Photo by The Village Sun)

“There was a time and place for Open Restaurants,” he said. “That time is gone. We supported our small businesses when we needed to. These outdoor sheds are not long-term planning. We have to put pressure on our elected officials and our communities to get rid of these sheds.”

Marte said he has discussed the issue with Council colleagues and found common ground, though unlike him, “they don’t have 1,000 restaurant sheds” in their districts.

Cornelia Street activist Lief Arntzen was the event’s trumpet-playing emcee. (Photo by The Village Sun)

He noted how the sheds blocked a fire truck responding to a blaze on Thompson St. last year from being able to “open their door.”

“Seniors have to go around the block to get an Access-A-Ride” due to the dining structures blocking the curb, he added.

District Leader Vittoria Fariello, a candidate for state Senate in Lower Manhattan, also spoke.

“We shouldn’t have to march and rally for our elected officials to be responsive to us,” she said. “When the city decided to make Open Restaurants permanent, the first call should have been to the residents.”

Fariello called on the city’s Department of Transportation, which is overseeing Open Restaurants, to do an “independent survey” of the program, as opposed to the widely ridiculed D.O.T. online survey, which allows people to respond an unlimited number of times.

Allie Ryan, with her kids in her cargo bike, said she’s had it with riding around and having to avoid all the gross detritus from Open Restaurants. (Photo by Chris Ryan)
Virginia and Ruby Lee — onboard with the outrage! (Photo by Chris Ryan)

Allie Ryan, who ran for City Council in District 3 last year, also decried the idea of making the sheds permanent.

“Even though I lost that election, I continue to advocate for the sunset of Open Restaurants,” she said. “It’s no longer needed. Two years later, we’ve learned about COVID. Indoor dining has returned. It is time for New York City to regain its sidewalks and streets.”

Ryan said the sheds make the streets unsafe, cause litter and rats, and, when abandoned, “promote an image of urban decay.” She said she’s tired of having to bike around an increase of “fresh rat roadkill and trash” that she chalks up to the sheds.

Ryan noted that, now that it’s winter, many of the sheds are fully enclosed, defeating the point of the program, which was to create well-ventilated seating areas during COVID.

“They just occupy public space to expand their public seating,” she said of the structures.

A block away from Washington Square Park, Caffe Reggio’s outdoor dining shed is completely enclosed for winter, except for a balky swinging door that doesn’t quite shut all the way. (Photo by The Village Sun)
A string of dining sheds on MacDougal Street are totally enclosed, from left, Caffe Reggio, Mamoun’s Falaffel and the Olive Tree Cafe. The Open Restaurants regulations say the structures must be fully open on two sides for ventilation to help reduce the spread of COVID. But opponents charge the city doesn’t do any enforcement of the rules, and that the sheds simply have become an undemocratic land grab for the bar and restaurant industry. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Her opposition to Open Restaurants is partly driven by its impact on her own living conditions in the East Village. A mother with two young daughters, she said their apartment windows face two restaurants with large sheds, one of which closed just a month ago, though its unused shed remains. Even with their windows closed, the din is disturbing.

“We can still hear atonal ‘Happy Birthday’ singing while we’re trying to go to bed,” she said.

Leslie Clark decried the “De Blasio Debacle” a.k.a. the “Alfresco Fiasco.” (Photo by The Village Sun)

Leslie Clark, a leader of the West Village Residents Association, accused former Mayor de Blasio of a despicable “bait and switch” when, in September 2020, he abruptly declared that the only recently launched Open Restaurants would now become permanent. The City Council followed suit.

“How could a city be taken over in a democracy by one and only one industry?” she asked, incredulously.

De Blasio launched the emergency program, she said, “and then came the bait and switch, four months later…the De Blasio Debacle, the Alfresco Fiasco. … One [public] hearing, it was done. The plan? To do away with all zoning to give away the streets to just one industry.”

A.M. Goodridge said he came to the rally as an “ambassador” from the Flatlands and Canarsie sections of Brooklyn. He said the dining sheds cause problems in terms of quality of life and crime. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Indeed, now the City Council will be voting to wipe away zoning regulations for sidewalk cafes as part of the long-term effort to make Open Restaurants permanent.

“Again, we have one and only one public hearing,” Clark urged the crowd. “Tuesday is the one and only chance.”

There were also some speakers from outside the Village area who called for reining in the sheds. Leslie Boghosian Murphy, a Community Board 4 member from Hell’s Kitchen who ran for City Council last year, said the program needs to be brought under control. Also speaking was Robert Camacho, chairperson of Bushwick’s Community Board 4.

Robert Camacho said the dining huts are a nightmare where he lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn. (Photo by The Village Sun)

“Shut those sheds!” he chanted to start.

Echoing Glick, Camacho said not everyone can afford to eat in a pricey outdoor dining spot.

“Listen, I’m not buying a $15 cup of coffee,” he stated, adding, “You’re pushing away the people that made the community what it is — us! Eventually, we’re all going to be priced out.”

Meanwhile, the 34-year community board member said, “Most of them that eat in the sheds don’t live in the community.”

He said the outdoor sheds in his neighborhood are filled with “rats, crackheads, dog feces, people living in them, hiding in them. How can you eat inside of these when you got dog feces in them?” he asked. “Where is the Health Department?”

20 Comments

  1. LES3025 LES3025 February 6, 2022

    If Glick wants to claim she supports her constituents she should consider the 150,000 people in her district who, according to all public polling, overwhelmingly support Open Restaurants, and not the 75 deeply unserious zealots who showed up here.

    • Resident Resident February 6, 2022

      No such poll exists. Both polls cited under 905 participants and the questions were skewed.

      • LES3025 LES3025 February 6, 2022

        I’ll take the poll of 900+ people over the (apparently) 30-35 who showed up to this protest. If you don’t like the polls you can go look at the thousands of people outdoor dining every day. There isn’t a legitimate debate to be had over whether this program is broadly popular.

    • Jan Jan February 6, 2022

      Total population of Glick’s assembly district is a little over 142,000 so I’d be really interested in seeing that poll.

      • LES3025 LES3025 February 6, 2022

        The city released its poll in November 2021 (https://www1.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/2020_cms_covid_october_summary_report.pdf). 84% of Manhattan residents support using street space for outdoor dining, 64% of the city overall (19% had no opinion and only 17% were opposed).

        TransAlt released a poll in January 2021 that showed 64 percent of voters said that outdoor seating for restaurants is an important use of curb space in their neighborhood, including 78 percent of voters in Manhattan (https://www.transalt.org/press-releases/poll-majority-of-voters-support-adding-protected-bike-lanes-bus-lanes-in-their-neighborhood-near-universal-support-for-expanding-crosswalks-green-spaces-even-if-it-results-in-less-parking).

        • Carol from East 5th Street Carol from East 5th Street February 7, 2022

          LES3025, re polls: Funny neither I (nor any of my friends and neighbors) even knew about the poll that said 84% of Manhattan residents “support using street space for outdoor dining” or the poll of 78% of voters in Manhattan that said “outdoor seating for restaurants is an important use of curb space.”
          I think the polls really reflect the opinions of those who answered the questions of the polls NOT the opinions of the entire population of the city. And clearly none of those people have these sheds in front of their buildings.

          • LES3025 LES3025 February 7, 2022

            The fact that you and your friends in your bubble didn’t know about the poll is exactly why relying on polls rather than anecdata is the better approach to judging public sentiment. If you want to criticize the poll’s methodology you can, but you have no idea what the methodology is or who the responses are from. There isn’t any poll out there that shows widespread opposition to the program and it’s obvious there wouldn’t be given how many people use outdoor dining. If you want to keep having the argument about whether the program is generally popular I’m happy to because it obviously is and I’ll win that every time.

        • Jan Jan February 7, 2022

          What you call the city poll was conducted in 2020, had a total of 167 participants from all of Manhattan, and did not ask the questions you seem to think are being answered. Nowhere does the survey refer to the current outdoor dining program or ask if it should be made permanent. It asks about outdoor dining as an abstract concept. And, 88% of Manhattan respondents preferred bus lanes, so there goes your outdoor dining program anyway.

        • ml ml February 9, 2022

          LES3025,
          As you know, there are surveys and there are surveys…

          The Transportation Alternatives Survey:
          1) The TA survey was conducted in January 2021 – before vaccinations were available. So does not seem fair to suggest the results are definitive.
          2) The PDF data attachment does not indicate the specific wording.
          We all know that wording and answer choice has an impact.
          3) TA clearly did the survey for its policy focus – to get rid of parking spots – rather than as part of rigorous public policy or land use research.

          The DOT Survey:
          1) The DOT survey is based on data collected before Covid and after. Again, that makes a difference.
          2) Again – the wording of questions and answer options make a difference.

          BTW I happened to participate in an online DOT survey last summer. Perhaps this is part of that report? In any event I only knew of the survey from a neighbor who works at DOT (no one else I knew had heard of it). I thought the questions were bad and restrictive – there were no questions relating to my concerns. Also the answer choices did not indicate what the consequence might be – for example, if I chose “flowers” would that mean a cut in some other DOT service?
          Most importantly – the survey could only be completed if you had a phone, tablet or computer! And it was not user-friendly at all.
          Completely horrible and dishonest, IMO.

  2. Another resident Another resident February 6, 2022

    100 people? In what universe? I counted 30 – 35.

  3. JackDog JackDog February 6, 2022

    This is another confabulous conflation Transportation Alternatives is pushing because it further limits parking and motor vehicle viability. And for the real estate industry it is a way to siphon public space for private purposes. They are indifferent to the quality of life. TA’s zealotry ignores anything that interferes with their hubris. Real estate wants to upscale and rezone simply to continue building
    and aggrandizing…screw the public.

    • LES3025 LES3025 February 7, 2022

      Private car parking is siphoning public space for private purposes.

  4. Obiter Dicta Obiter Dicta February 6, 2022

    I believe that the sheds currently have considerable merit for the duration of this epidemic to enable the restaurants to at least eek out a living, provide jobs for their staff and to provide residents with safe and accessible dining options. I do, however, object, during this epidemic, to the construction of sheds that are almost fully enclosed, provide little ventilation and safe distancing and which are little more than extensions of their enclosed interior space. I have no sympathy for those restaurants who exploit this emergency program to enhance their profits without providing the safety and health safeguards that this program was designed to institute. However, I believe that once health conditions normalize, the city streets and sidewalks should revert to the prior regulations governing outside dining. These sheds have exacerbated the enormous street congestion caused by the constriction of city streets due to bike lanes, Citi Bike stations and the closing of streets to enhance pedestrian traffic. In addition, I totally sympathize with Village residents who are regularly subjected to the raucous noises and stenches arising from and around these sheds and from the garbage they generate. In conclusion, I believe that these emergency measures have merit during the emergency, but not afterward.

  5. Seth Seth February 6, 2022

    People like LES3025 are entitled to their opinion, but literally no one I know, even those who appreciated being able to dine outside during the pandemic, thinks that the current situation should be perpetuated. Do you think that mask wearing should be perpetuated after the pandemic is done? Do you think vaccine mandates will be needed when COVID is gone? The sheds are now purely a giveaway to restaurants and, don’t forget, landlords who now can advertise a much larger space than the actual space they own. Some blocks look like a Third World shantytown. Many of the sheds are a joke anyway since they are completely enclosed and less safe than eating indoors in a restaurant with proper air filtration and circulation. Not to mention the garbage, the rats, the graffiti, the blockage of fire trucks and ambulances….

    The sheds are not even fair to some restaurants, namely those located on a corner or with a narrow frontage, or with a hydrant in front, who don’t have a space for a shed.

    Thank you, Glick and Marte for once again being among the few public officials with common sense.

    • LES3025 LES3025 February 7, 2022

      I think the program needs to be improved in a number of ways, but the conversation being had in NIMBY spaces like this is about doing away with it altogether, which seems to be what you want too. It’s not really worth having a discussion of the policy nuances with people who aren’t trying to be constructive partners in the process.

  6. Seth Seth February 6, 2022

    I should add to my previous comment that I have no problem with some liberalization of sidewalk cafe rules, but the sheds have to go.

  7. Gaby Duane Gaby Duane February 7, 2022

    Restaurant owners had plenty of time to catch up with their losses of 2020.

    Now it is 2022: Mission accomplished!!!!!!!

    Let’s get back to restaurants using the space they pay rent for and let us all enjoy our city, especially our sidewalks. No more Covid excuses, espeically with these super-ENCLOSED SHEDS.

    Let’s get back to the established “sidewalk cafes” as they were “organized” pre-pandemic.

  8. Lora Tenenbaum Lora Tenenbaum February 7, 2022

    The hospitality lobby is a powerful force. Sadly, they manipulated many of the Alt Trans people into believing it’s all about car parking, when it’s really about a livable City and a balance between needs of residents, visitors and all types of ground-floor retail.

  9. Carol from East 5th Street Carol from East 5th Street February 7, 2022

    LES302, re “Private car parking”…? Seems to me it is public car parking. So we should turn this public space into a benefit for the landlords who would profit from the additional free space they can now add to their restaurant tenants’ rent?

    You are the one living in a “bubble.” You probably live in one of the new high-rises in the neighborhood and are not affected by noise from the sheds, excessive garbage on the street, rats, etc., because your building maintenance crew takes care of that.

    My guess is you can afford to Uber anywhere, so you don’t have to worry about street parking. And you couldn’t care less about the destruction of East River Park because you spend your summers in the Hamptons or Fire Island.

    • LES3025 LES3025 February 8, 2022

      The cars that park there are private cars, not public cars. It is a public benefit given to the small minority of people in the city who drive cars. And it does not price in cars’ many externalities (pollution, noise, traffic safety, etc.). Many more people eat at restaurants than drive cars, so using the space for restaurants provides a broader public benefit than using it for cars. This isn’t really a hard concept to understand if you listen to what I’m saying.

      I go out of my way not to live in a bubble. I mean, I read this newspaper a lot and engage regularly here in the comments with people like you who disagree with me. I try to listen to the people who disagree with me and I think I understand their positions, not a straw man version of them that I made up in my head. I’ve changed my opinions a few times. You should try it sometime.

      I’ve said before that I don’t live in a luxury high-rise. I have lots of sheds within view and earshot of my windows. I rarely take Uber and Lyft (they’re evil companies and a waste of money when the city has good public transit). I stayed in the city when lots of people left in March 2020 and I have spent both my pandemic summers here.

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