Public Comment Period for New Dining Shed Rules Ends, Locals & Restaurant Group Give Input

With new amended rules for the upcoming Outdoor Dining Program being put forward by the city’s Department of Transportation, a public comment period that ended on November 20 attracted hundreds of remarks. Unsurprisingly, the restaurant trade group known as The Hospitality Alliance generally deemed the proposed regulations on dining sheds too onerous, while local residents offered a mix of praise and condemnation.

| 24 Nov 2023 | 12:11

With seasonal roadway dining sheds about to be made more or less permanent with the city’s Outdoor Dining Program, local residents and restaurant trade groups offered up loads of input on the rollout’s rules in a public comment period that ended on November 20. Hundreds of remarks were provided.

The DOT has taken point on the rules, after the City Council–with strong backing from Mayor Eric Adams–passed a law cementing the new program in August.

The amended rules will be finalized by the end of the calendar year, with restaurants able to being applying for new structures in early 2024. This means that new roadway sheds can start popping up by April 1. Next year, they’ll be allowed up until November 29, kicking off a permanent seasonal pattern. Currently existing sheds will will be allowed to stay up until Dec. 31, 2023. Sidewalk sheds under the new regs will be allowed to stay up year-round, provided that they follow the guidelines now being finalized.

When it came to local residents, opinions on the new rules ran the gamut. While some commenters delved into the drawbacks of specific regulations, many community members seized the opportunity to express larger philosophical positions on the existence of the sheds themselves.

Rosyln Biskin stood out as an effusive voice in the pro-sheds camp, proclaiming: “I love that restaurants have added some beauty and color to the space in front of the storefronts. It animates the city streets and sidewalks – much more than parked cars do.” She added that she believes imposing bureaucratic red tape on the sheds would “kill the joy” of utilizing “individualistic” spaces.

Violet–who didn’t give her last name–took the opposite tack, claiming that “the deserted outdoor dining areas are occupying a significant amount of space designated for parking, leading to an increase in double-parked cars and less space for residents.”

Erica Brody seemed to take great issue with the fact that the sheds had closed seasonally. “KEEP OUTDOOR DINING STRUCTURES OPEN ALL YEAR LONG, NOT JUST APRIL THRU NOV. Esp given recent winter temps, there’s lots of missed opportunity if they’re closed for winter. Humans need more outdoor time,” she said.

Danyell Thillet, another proponent of keeping sheds open year-round, noted that “as an immune compromised person, outdoor dining has allowed me to maintain some semblance of normalcy and a social life during the pandemic. It deeply troubles me that these new rules would prevent access during the wintertime, when disabled people are the most isolated.”

Donald Z. Schweter offered a list of gripes, a good chunk of them centered around rodents. “To whom it may concern,” he began, “placing a floor on road bed will create hiding places for rats and vermin. Prior to Covid, I saw no rats on the street in front of my office. As soon as these structures were erected, rats were seen by myself daily. They would scurry from sight and dissappear [sic] under these floors.”

Of course, not everybody that took advantage of the public comment period is a patron of the sheds. The Hospitality Alliance, a trade group that represents restaurants, submitted four detailed pages of responses to individual clauses in the amended rules. Considering the economic boon that the rollout of sheds has provided to the industry, many of the Alliance’s concerns revolved around the undue burdens placed on sheds and restaurant owners.

For example, Sec 5-10(i) of the DOT’s rules notes that “no loud or unnecessary noises may emanate from a sidewalk or roadway cafe.” The Alliance pointedly calls this “simply unacceptable.” Furthermore, they clarify that “we must not go back to the bad old days of the subjective determinations by inspectors that sound was ‘loud or unnecessary.’”

Similarly, the Alliance took issue with sections on “maintenance” and “good order.” The Alliance suspects that this will place misapplied burdens on owners and service workers, namely by giving them tasks that are the responsibility of city agencies such as cleaning the street facing side of the dining shed. That is better left to the Sanitation Department’s street sweepers, the Alliance says. “Trash pickup is in the purview of the Sanitation Department,” the Alliance stated. Furthermore, they believe that “businesses are not legally responsible for how people behave outside their indoor or outdoor spaces. That’s an issue for the NYPD.”

The new rules also require that new dining sheds maintain “lightweight and easily moveable tables, chairs, and decorative accessories.” Likewise, they’ll need to be built with lighter construction materials such as glass or slow-burning plastic. This is all in the interest of making the sheds more easily movable.

Some restaurant owners have noted that existing sheds can cost a fair amount of money to rebuild, making the cycle of taking down seasonal roadway sheds rather expensive. It therefore remains to be seen whether the thousands of sheds currently in use will return next spring, or whether their numbers will be reduced.