BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Expanding the Open Restaurants program without a proper environmental review is “contrary to law,” the attorney on a lawsuit seeking to block City Hall’s imperious move thundered at a press conference Thursday morning.
Attorney Michael Sussman has been retained by a group of nearly two dozen residents, spanning from Greenwich Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen to the East Village, Lower East Side and Williamsburg, who say their quality of life has been wrecked by the explosion of roadway dining sheds on their streets.
Sussman stressed that the legal effort is “attempting to bring rationality back to New York City. The beginning of rationality,” he said, “is compliance with the rule of law and not ‘anything goes.'”
During the inititial stages of the pandmic, he noted, many of the plaintiffs supported the Open Restaurants program as a way to provide relief to restaurateurs and their workers.
“The pandemic is now, thankfully, coming to a conclusion,” the attorney said. “Public policy’s recognizing that. Higher vaccination rates are making it possible. At the same time, the city of New York, without proper environmental reviews, is significantly expanding programs that are disruptive to the everyday lives of people standing here and to tens of thousands of other New Yorkers. This disruption is happening without proper environmental reviews, essentially ignoring the science, ignoring the experience of the last 16 months.”
Sussman said the lawsuit was “filed for a very specific purpose, to ensure that New York City complies with the law. Let all voices be heard,” he said. “Let a proper environmental review be done. Let people have an opportunity to have input into that process. And let decision makers make informed — informed not skewed — decisions.
“We want compliance with the law,” he declared. “You have the city of New York, literally, wanting to scuttle thousands of amendments, thousands of zoning regulations which are intended to protect the quality of life of ordinary New Yorkers. This is being done under the covers, not in a transparent way, not in a way which invites public participation.
“We have an outgoing mayor who is rushing this in, as part of what he perceives to be as his legacy — contrary to law.”
Also among those speaking at the press conference was Marcell Rocha, a fashion stylist and editor who has lived on Orchard Street 13 years and is one of the lawsuit plaintiffs.
“Pre-sheds,” Rocha said, “the L.E.S. was always saturated with nightlife, noise issues and disturbances that police could not handle whatsoever. Cut to the sheds and multiply that times 1,000 — that is how much the situation has escalated. … The rats quadrupled, if not more.”
Before, if a club, bar or restaurant was a quality-of-life problem, it was at least indoors, he said, noting, “Now, it’s under your window — and it starts six hours earlier in the evening.”
“There is no sidewalk anymore available for locals to walk once establishments are opearting and entertaining inside sheds and on sidewalks,” he said. “If you’re lucky, you can walk on the street along car traffic. Opening a window for fresh air? Well, you can’t do that anymore, unless you want clouds of stale cigarette and marijuana smoke in your home.”
Car dropoffs on residents’ blocks have become impossible, too, he said, adding, “Lucky if you can get to your corner.”
“We have lost our sidewalks,” he said, “we have lost our streets and we have lost our peace and quality of life due to the sheds and their raucous [noise].”