NYC Council approves zoning amendment in move toward permanent outdoor dining

February 25, 2022

Maiden Korea, 316 5th Avenue; Courtesy of Alfresco NYC

The New York City Council on Thursday approved the Open Restaurants zoning text amendment to NYC’s Zoning Resolution, an important step in the path to making permanent outdoor dining a part of city life. The zoning amendment expands the areas where outdoor dining can be considered to all NYC neighborhoods. The amendment joins proposed legislative changes that would cut red tape for restaurant owners.

As 6sqft previously reported, the city suspended outdoor dining regulations in an emergency measure to make year-round outdoor dining possible during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic when indoor dining was banned. The move was an enormous success and a lifeline for many restaurants.

The city’s permanent Open Restaurants program makes it easier, less expensive, and faster for restaurants to safely serve diners outside, but existing zoning made it a laborious process to obtain city approval for a sidewalk café. The zoning text amendment, proposed by the Department of City Planning and Department of Transportation, is part of the Open Restaurants program. It will eliminate geographic restrictions on locations in NYC where sidewalk cafes can be placed

The amendment also consolidates applications for the sidewalk café program and a new roadway café program under one agency, the Department of Transportation (DOT). This further streamlines the application process for owners.

In praise of the amendment, Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said in a statement, “We commend the City Council for approving the Open Restaurants text amendment, which creates a clean slate to determine all of the details of a permanent outdoor dining program and expands where sidewalk cafes can be located to provide a more equitable alfresco dining program to all neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs. While there’s a lot more work to be done to develop a more standardized and sustainable program, the approval of today’s text amendment is an important milestone for the future of alfresco dining and New York City’s economic recovery.”

To be eligible, restaurants will still need to meet requirements such as “clear path” requirements that keep restaurant structures and diners at a safe distance from fire hydrants and neighboring businesses. The newly-approved zoning amendment is the first of several changes–which also include design and safety rules–that will shape the permanent Open Restaurants program.

New design guidelines are currently being drafted. As Gothamist reports, the new program will mean the end of the enclosed dining sheds that restaurants have constructed for pandemic dining, and already-existing sheds won’t be grandfathered in, according to DOT.

Flexible outdoor dining spaces, including umbrellas, tents, and barriers, will get the green light. While pre-pandemic outdoor dining areas fell under rules for “sidewalk cafes,” a new “roadway cafe” program extends the space used in the emergency Open Restaurants program by allowing a portion of a roadway’s curb lane or parking lane for outdoor dining.

The emergency program is in place through 2022, when restaurants will be able to transition to a permanent program. Learn more about Open Restaurants here.


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