Community boards and restaurants spread over the direction for outdoor dining

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Al fresco dining is a financial lifeline for Brooklyn restaurants right now, but not everyone agrees.

In November, the city proposed zoning amendment permanently remove geo-restrictions on the location of sidewalk cafes in New York City, but 29 of 51 community councils vote against.

Two of these community boards were Brooklyn Community Boards 4 and 5, which respectively cover Bushwick and East New York. They voted against the Permanent Open Restaurants amendment citing issues of noise, sanitation and loss of parking spaces.

Currently, there is an emergency order signed during the pandemic allowing restaurants to operate outside.

“It was a fantastic initiative at the height of the pandemic to move businesses forward,” Melinda Perkins, district director of Brooklyn’s Community Board 5, said at a board meeting. in the borough of Brooklyn in early December.

“But I would like to understand the impetus behind this now that there are mandates in place for immunization, and if companies are still under pressure.”

The interior of the outdoor dining room at Chez Oskar. Photo: Supplied

Now, the record rise in COVID-19 cases due to the new Omicron variant and a shortage of reliable testing is forcing restaurants to close their doors or turn to alfresco dining just to protect their staff and guests. of infection.

It is not known if this new wave of infections will change the Council’s mind. Community Camacho and Perkins did not respond to a request for comment at time of posting.

“Let the community decide, the people who are suffering in this community,” Robert Camacho, district director of Brooklyn’s Community Board 4, said at a town planning committee meeting in early October.

“All we ask for is a decent place to live. “

Although it received a negative majority, the Department of Transportation only considers what is expressed by the councils as recommendations and could still authorize the program.

The next step in the implementation of the permanent open restaurant program is the Town Planning Commission vote, but no date has been set for it yet.

Brooklyn neighborhoods that would be excluded from maintaining sidewalk cafes if the program was not approved include Court Street, from Schermerhorn Street to Montague Street, 13th Avenue between 3rd Avenue and Gowanus Expressway and 13th Avenue from 39th Street to Utrecht Avenue, among others.

So far, at least 23 Brooklyn restaurants are closed for the next few days, such as a popular neighborhood bar Social Club and Billy de Pearl in Bushwick, which is closed until December 27, or the Rule of Thirds restaurant in Greenpoint, which is closed until further notice.

At Oskar, a popular French spot in Bed-Stuy, has turned to alfresco dining only, despite the winter cold, in order to mitigate risks and continue to employ its dedicated staff.

Installation of the outdoor dining room at Chez Oskar. Photo: Supplied.

“Right now we have voluntarily closed our doors for indoor dining because we were getting calls from people who were contracting the virus and just telling us and we said we couldn’t operate like that,” said Charlotta Janssen, owner of Chez Oskar. .

“We are taking a huge financial hit, but we have no choice. We need to protect our people.

Under the Permanent Open Restaurant program, restaurants will still need to meet physical criteria to be eligible for a sidewalk café. These requirements include “clear path” conditions, ensuring tables and chairs are at appropriate distances from standpipes and nearby businesses.

“We keep hearing that DOT is going to take down our structure,” Janssen said. “Our outdoor dining area works wonderfully, however, and is also designed for pedestrians. It adds so much and takes up so little sidewalk space.

The proposal would not change the process for reviewing sidewalk cafes by local community councils. But, the areas where they can be considered would extend to all neighborhoods.

“Small businesses employ about 10 percent of the city, and we’re in a rush,” Janssen said. “Outdoor dining is the silver lining – it’s the only thing that helps us survive. The city shouldn’t take it away.

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