NYC Reins in Restaurant Sheds, By Just a Few; Mayor Vows ‘Outdoor Dining Here to Stay' – NBC New York

New York City’s mayor made an announcement on one of the more polarizing pandemic-era initiatives — outdoor dining — as expected on Thursday, though the details may fall flat for critics of the continued program.
Eric Adams’ update specifically addresses the sheds — cumbersome parking-spot-blocking rodent attractors to some, lifelines of employment and sociality to others — seen stretching across blocks, jam-packed with seated diners, for years.
But, contrary to the hopes of tens of thousands of aggrieved parties across the city — and in alliance with the hopes of tens of thousands of parties who would be aggrieved by a reversal — Adams’ new plan targets sheds associated with restaurants that have already closed their doors. Consider it a first step, of sorts, in addressing what has become a burgeoning issue.

An initial blitz saw the city remove 25 sheds of now-closed restaurants within days, Adams says. Those are the sheds, he says, the ones linked to no viable business, that are problematic. Many had fallen into disrepair or had turned into squatting sites or other reservoirs of illegal activity, according to the city. Those sheds represented a fraction of those in the system.
As he helped crews dismantle one of those problematic sheds — one that he said he could tell from its smell that “someone has used this as a urinal” — he defended the program as a whole.
“Outdoor dining has transformed New York City and saved 100,000 jobs during the pandemic, but we cannot allow abandoned dining sheds to litter our streets,” Adams said in a statement. “These deserted dining sheds have become eyesores for neighbors and havens for rats, and we are going to tear them down.”
There could be another 37 dining sheds removed, as they have been labeled as egregious violators that could be torn down if the owners don’t make repairs. And although he took a sledgehammer to one dining area, he insisted that it doesn’t mean the city would be “removing the program. It is a symbol that we must get it right.”
“With this initiative, we are also taking the essential step towards a permanent Open Restaurants program that all New Yorkers can be proud of every day,” the mayor added. “I want to say it loud and clear: Outdoor dining is here to stay.”
As many as 13,000 businesses participated in the Open Restaurants program, which the city said saved an estimated 100,000 jobs. While not as reliant on them as they once were, restaurants insist the outdoor areas are still needed to keep businesses open and afloat.
“We can’t let a few bad apples in the open restaurant program ruin it for all,” said Deputy Mayor Merra Joshi.
The mayor’s office had kept his plans close to the vest but the night before Thursday’s announcement, the @NYCMayor Twitter account shared video of Adams enjoying a “working dinner” in an outdoor dining space. What that means may as well be anyone’s guess. Adams has described himself as a supporter of outdoor dining but he has also sympathized with people who claim the streetside structures threaten neighborhood quality of life by multiple means.
Out for a working dinner with @HeyNowJO! #GetStuffDone
The subject has become a wedge issue in recent months, pitting neighbors against neighbors and car-owning residents against their local restaurant staples. Should this program continue even though mask mandates and vaccine-proof requirements have been dropped? Some say yes, at least until — or if, really — people stop working regularly from home.
To that end, The New York City Council passed a zoning amendment earlier this year paving the way to establish a permanent Open Restaurants program across the five boroughs, citing economic and other benefits.
Since then, the city has faced dozens of lawsuits. Some argue City Hall is overreaching by maintaining outdoor dining as the lone outstanding COVID allowance permitted by the mayor’s executive order.
A lawsuit filed with the state Supreme Court last month seeks to dissolve the emergency order. The petitioners argue that efforts by the city and the state to extend outdoor dining programs on an emergency basis are arbitrary since most other safety measures spurred by the health crisis have been scaled back or entirely dissolved.
“By July 2022, respondents’ chief executive officers had abandoned vaccine and mask mandates, occupancy limitations on indoor dining and social distancing requirements and recognized that no public health emergency now exists,” it reads.
The lawsuit in great detail lists the pandemic programs designed to assist New Yorkers that have since gone by the wayside, including unemployment assistance, certain vaccine and mask mandates and other financial and social support.
Allowing the continuation of outdoor dining structures, the group claims, is detrimental to the city. They point to “increased and excessive noise, traffic congestion, garbage and uncontrolled rodent populations, the blocking of sidewalks and roadways” among the many ways the program is an “illegal encroachment” upon the city’s residents.
While the group demands all sheds, even well-maintained spots, come down in order to battle the uptick in rats and garbage, Adams called it a distraction.
“Their lawsuit is slowing the process of making the process permanent,” the mayor said.
City Council has yet to decide on whether the sheds will be permanent, or if there will be a different layout.
“How do we redefine our streetscape, and how to we take on sidewalks and streets, and make it better for our community,” said Bronx City Councilmember Marjorie Velazquez, who chairs the committee in charge.


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