Tensions are rising as residents and neighborhood restaurants clash over whether outdoor dining setups on NYC’s sidewalks and streets are taking up too much space.
Over 11,000 restaurants have been certified for NYC’s ongoing outdoor dining program, which was first instated to help support struggling restaurants while indoor dining was banned, and then was made a permanent program in the city by the mayor last September. But outdoor dining structures, which restaurateurs have spent thousands of dollars to install on sidewalks and in roadside parking spots, have increasingly drawn the ire of some NYC residents who feel that some restaurants are overstepping with the amount of space these structures are taking up.
In the Bronx, Marissa Davis, the owner of popular bar Kirvens in Pelham Parkway, is fielding complaints from some community board members over Kirvens’s 48-foot roadside outdoor setup, the Bronx Times reports. Two local community board members reported the structure to the board’s district manager during a January meeting, with one member calling the structure “an eyesore” and saying that “I’m hoping she’s breaking some laws here,” according to the Bronx Times. Davis had previously secured permission from the Department of Transportation and her landlord in order to build the structure.
The Department of Transportation was called in to reinspect the structure, and issued a notice to Davis to correct some issues, including installing reflective tape and snow sticks. Those problems were fixed within the next day, Davis tells the Bronx Times, but the saga was not over. The two board members who originally flagged Kirvens’s set up complained about the bar again in a subsequent 49th Precinct Council meeting, where they are also members. The police captain present in the meeting said that he’d check with the Departments of Buildings and Consumer Affairs to see if the bar’s outdoor setup was in compliance.
Neighborhood resident Diana Finch told the Bronx Times that the efforts by the two board members to keep reporting bar owner Davis, who is Black, “appears racist.” She added, “They are all older white women who have lived in the area for a long time, and appear uncomfortable with the reality that there are now many younger people of color including now many Black people who live, own businesses, work and socialize in the community.”
In Manhattan, fancy seafood destination Marea is battling residents after filing a request with the local community board last month to permanently sit diners in an adjacent outdoor courtyard of a neighboring landmarked building, the New York Post reports. The fine dining establishment, where Michael White is the chef and partner, previously clashed with residents over its outdoor dining setup during the summer. The restaurant is now requesting that its liquor license be expanded to allow the restaurant to serve alcohol in the courtyard for the balance of Marea’s lease term.
The requests incensed some of the people who live in the building. “This is an opportunistic move by Marea to use the pandemic as an excuse to expand into our garden with total disregard for our quality of life,” one unnamed resident told the Post. If Marea’s requests are approved, it’ll be able to seat 64 diners in total outdoors.
Marea and Kirvens are just two of many establishments that have come under fire for their outdoor dining structures since the start of the city’s program. A Midtown Manhattan steakhouse got roasted on Twitter in December over its extensive outdoor dining setup, pushing the city to send inspectors out to examine the space. Over 4,400 complaints have been logged through 311 regarding outdoor dining structures in NYC since July.
City council member Keith Powers, whose district includes Marea’s neighborhood, told the Post that while the structures are a “necessity” for local restaurants, “outdoor dining has to be harmonious with the neighboring community.”
Correction: This post has been updated to clarify Marea’s request to the local community board. Furthermore, if the request is granted, Marea will be able to seat 64 diners outdoors, not 86.