The New York City Council is set to introduce legislation on Thursday that requires the city to use open space for outdoor dining during the coronavirus pandemic. Restaurants and bars have now been closed for in-person service for over two months because of the state’s “pause” order that shuttered all nonessential businesses. And while takeout and delivery options remain available, the restaurant industry has taken a tremendous hit, with many longtime restaurants forced to close permanently.
Introduced by Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Antonio Reynoso, the proposed legislation would require Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to identify open spaces like sidewalks, streets, and plazas for restaurants and bars to “safely serve customers outside,” according to a press release. The bill would also create a simple, streamlined permitting process.
Under the proposed legislation, the city’s Department of Transportation would identify the appropriate open spaces that are safe and the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene would create guidelines for social distancing and cleaning.
According to Johnson, restaurants and bars that serve food would be able to submit an application to the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, which would process the application within a week and then notify the neighborhood’s representatives and community boards.
“Our restaurants needs this,” Johnson said in a tweet on Thursday. “I’m confident that we can creatively use our street space to get them back up and running.”
New York City is the only region in the state that has not hit all seven metrics required to open first phase businesses, which includes construction, manufacturing, and some retail for curbside pickup. The mayor said the city is on track to be able to reopen with phase one in the first or second week of June. Restaurants and other hospitality services, like hotels, fall in phase three of the reopening plan.
But as the weather improves, restaurant owners are advocating for a plan that would quickly allow businesses to return. The NYC Hospitality Alliance, NYS Latino Restaurants, Bars, and Lounges Association, and some owners worked on the Council’s proposed legislation.
Since the start of the pandemic, some pols have called on City Hall to use streets that are currently closed to cars from the open streets initiative for outdoor dining. Last week, two dozen members of the City Council wrote to the mayor to use outdoor seating plans already implemented in cities across the country, including Cincinnati and Tampa, as models for New York.
“With the possibility of restaurants eventually reopening at 50 percent less indoor capacity for diners, small restaurants throughout the city that already had limited capacity face a tough road ahead,” the officials wrote.
When asked on Wednesday about the plan for outdoor dining during a press conference, de Blasio said City Hall is looking into allowing al fresco dining but provided no new details on how or when it could happen.
“I think it is a very, very encouraging possibility to lean to the outdoors. But even with that, we got a lot to figure out in terms of social distancing, face coverings, protocols, and what amount of capacity you could create that would make it worthwhile because bar and restaurant owners have been really clear – they need a certain level of capacity for it to be economically viable,” de Blasio said on Wednesday.
He added: “As soon as we feel it’s right, we’ll be ready to act. But first, we’ve got to get phase one going. It’s just, there is an important part of sequencing to keep everyone healthy. That’s how we’re going to proceed.”
De Blasio told reporters on Wednesday that the NYPD will be patroling a handful of “bar-heavy” neighborhoods around the city after multiple reports surfaced of New Yorkers buying cocktails to-go and hanging in groups outside of bars. The nine neighborhoods set to see extra NYPD presence include the Upper East Side, East Village, West Village, Lower East Side, Williamsburg, Long Island City, Astoria, Hell’s Kitchen, and City Island.
The mayor has supported other measures that provide relief to small businesses and restaurants. On Tuesday, he signed into law a bill that temporarily caps the commission third-party apps can charge restaurants at 15 percent on deliveries and 5 percent for other charges. Another bill signed by the mayor prohibits delivery apps from charging restaurants for phone orders with customers that did not result in any orders.
The Council has been successful in pushing the mayor to act on recent legislative matters, including the plan to close streets to cars to provide more space for socially distant activities. While now the city boasts the most open streets in the country at 45 miles, de Blasio was initially reluctant to support the plan, citing the overuse of police enforcement.
But with overwhelming support from the City Council and neighborhood groups, as well as intention to go over de Blasio to pass the legislation, the mayor later came around to the idea.
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