Neighbors Band Together in Opposition to ‘Junkyard’ Dining Sheds

Posted on: July 12th, 2021 at 5:00 am by

Last week, Governor Cuomo signed legislation extending the state’s outdoor dining program for another year. The announcement comes as the city simultaneously works to make the dining shed a permanent reality via the Open Restaurants initiative started during the coronavirus pandemic.

Indeed, the Department of City Planning and Department of Transportation proposed a text amendment to zoning laws that would “remove geographic restrictions on where sidewalk cafes can be located within NYC.” Effectively enabling the proliferation of the shed in the streetscape.

The Open Restaurants text amendment entered public review on June 21. So the city is initiating public meetings at every Community Board in the Five Boroughs to discuss the amendment.

For liquor-saturated neighborhoods like the Lower East Side, the reality on the ground isn’t so hunky dory

At the forefront of the hyperlocal fight is a collection of vociferous block associations – LES Dwellers, Orchard Street Block Association, Chinatown Core, and East 5th Street. The coalition is also part of a larger effort organized around the process, legality, and fairness of the sheds, CueUp, Coalition United for Equitable Urban Policy.

Together they are rallying residents against the cause and to attend the Community Board 3 hearing tomorrow night on the text amendment.

In tandem is the littering of related flyers across the neighborhood, which spell out the quality-of-life issues that result from the ‘junkyard’ sheds. Including, but not limited to, noise, excess trash and the rats that feed, traffic and honking horns, and the overall loss of sidewalks. Sheds also pose a problem to emergency responders like firefighters by obstructing the required turning radius for fire trucks and/or narrows the vehicular lane so significantly that firefighters cannot open the doors of their vehicles.

“The sheds were a necessary response to a global pandemic and a needed lifeline for the hospitality industry,” Dwellers’ Diem Boyd tells us. “Nevertheless, we simply can’t sit back and allow what amounts to giving away our public sidewalks and roads permanently to the hospitality industry.”

The text amendment and path to permanence has the groups decrying a “land grab” and the lack of public input or environmental study.

“East Fifth Street has been swamped with sheds,” block association head Stuart Zamsky notes. “Why is Hospitality the only business Albany and City Hall seem to care about? Why are we giving them a permanent monopoly in one of the biggest public land grabs in NYC’s history?”

In Chinatown, the language barrier proved difficult in organizing shed opposition.

“The Mayor’s ruling to extend this phenomenon for these select businesses indefinitely did not account for the many people in our community, who lacked the ability to protest or even opine because of digital-only meetings, and lack of internet as well as language challenges,” Chinatown Core leader Jan Lee says in a statement.

There are three phases before the Open Restaurants program becomes permanent. Changing the zoning text is part of step one; the application period is expected to begin in winter 2022; and full implementation a year later.

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