There is a solution for abandoned dining sheds

The folks from Jay Street who have had it up-to-here with the burgeoning rat population were nice enough to invite me on a neighborhood stroll with Chris Marte and reps from the Department of Transportation and the Department of Health — and while their efforts to deal with rats were enlightening (more on that soon) the discussion around the curbside dining sheds was even more so.

The news: The dining platform for the now defunct restaurant Serenata at 181 Duane should be coming down today, having finally made its way up the queue at DOT. And that is simply how it works: abandoned sheds must be reported to 311 and they will be added to a list for removal. The permit for the shed is not transferable to the next business, so once a restaurant closes, the shed must come down. (Add a comment if you think of one and we can all start calling 311.)

The catch: The removal of a shed is an enormous undertaking. DOT removed one in the East Village last week and it required 12 people, three hours and four truckloads, said Manhattan Borough Commissioner Ed Pincar. For example, if the shed is wired for electric, they have to bring in DOT electricians, pulling them off other jobs; and in some cases they have to bring in DOH workers to take care of hazardous garbage like needles. They then have to store the remains of the shed for 30 days since it is claimed property. (It all hurts my head.)

This will take some time since the list is long, said Julie Schipper, DOT’s director of the Open Restaurants program. (There are 6000 restaurants in Manhattan and the DOT folks said they felt like they had spoken to all of them.)

The future: So, that brings us to what comes next. The legislation for the future of Open Restaurants is not yet written, but it most likely will not allow the current shed structures.

Marte noted that the City Council voted last week to make the program permanent, but that the details of what curbside dining will look like will come out of intra-agency discussions over the next year. Likely a lighter touch on the curbside the better. The dining enclosures should be easily movable and removable, so they can be disassembled for weather, for emergencies, for access to municipal uses like manhole covers and electric. Think planters, tables and umbrellas, rather than walls and roofs. (See rendering below.)

The new program will also try to reflect lessons learned from the past year and a half of outdoor dining, giving consideration to ADA accessibility, sanitation, noise pollution, pedestrian safety — we all know the issues by now.

And moving forward, there will likely be higher standards and stricter enforcement once we are past the most critical moments of the pandemic.

 

31 Comments

  1. Keeping the open restaurants program is a monstrosity. The total lack of respect from this industry is baffling. These sheds are ugly, loud, unsanitary, dangerous, and are taking needed sidewalk and road space – I also personally prefer my food without the outside pollution.
    Frankly, NY looks like a huge pile of garbage or a shanty town. The worst idea.
    Looking at the above drawing makes me wonder how many accidents will occur once more people are driving back to work.

    • Outdoor dining is basically the best thing that has happened to NYC in the past 10 years. It makes the city vastly more desirable, and has the added benefit of eliminating parking spaces.

      • It is absolutely not. Besides it’s supposed to be temporary. Restaurants that have invested so much money building sheds, adding sidewalk seatings are not going to give it up. Rats is only a side effect, unlawful land grab is the real issue.

        • Land grab? Grabbed from people parking their private vehicles (some with out of state plates and others registered out of the city) on Manhattan streets? Overnight street parking was not legal until 1954 anyhow.

    • Agree 100%- can’t wait for these monstrosities to all be taken down; especially the corner restaurants that felt they had the right to take up every bit of space they could seize.

    • Clearly the opinion of someone not in the restaurant business! And clearly someone who wants to make room for individual drivers to have ample parking. Good god the earth is melting let them take the ample public transportation the tri-state has to offer. We do not need anymore cars.

    • No restaurant is going to invest a lot of money in these spaces as long as they are temporary. They have proven to be a huge hit with the public, and far more valuable use of a scare public resource than a parking spot for that type of Manhattanite who must drive everywhere, you know the type.

      Make the program permanent and the investment into the space will follow.

  2. Good tip of reaching out to 311 for abandoned sheds.
    I look forward to an improved future of Open dining.

    • Agreed. The shacks can be unsightly and are definitely unsanitary, so I’m glad they’re doing away with them while still enabling restaurants to use street space for a more typical outdoor dining experience as weather permits. It’s a far more productive and enjoyable use of public space than parking.

  3. Another option:

    Widen sidewalks in many areas, so that outdoor seating is not in the streets. This would allow more outdoor dining and seating directly adjacent to restaurants, instead of near vehicle traffic, without cutting into pedestrian sidewalk space.

    If I understand right, sidewalks were originally much wider on many streets in NYC, and were later narrowed to make way for growing vehicle traffic.

    Along with measures (like congestion pricing) to reduce vehicle traffic, sidewalks can once again be widened.

    As for the structures, they would not be needed then. Fully enclosed structures never made sense for COVID anyway; they may be even less hygienic than simply dining in the restaurant, as they don’t even have ventilation systems. With the idea of widening sidewalks and keeping seating by the restaurant, no immovable structures are required at all. Tables and chairs are movable. A roll-out overhead canopy can be installed if desired to retain some heat and to protect against rain.

    This seems to be the model of cafes and restaurants in Europe, for example. It’s also basically an expansion of how outdoor dining worked pre-pandemic at many NYC restaurants.

    • This all makes way to much sense. Thanks. But it also probably means it will never happen.

    • Do you realize what the implications are for the City’s capital budget, and how far in advance funds need to be requested in the capital budget process?

      So while some of what you propose could happen, none of it could happen quickly. And none with existing resources, and priorities.

      • I don’t know the costs on widening sidewalks. Perhaps someone with more expertise could weigh in. It seems a fairly simple construction process, but perhaps there are expensive details involved.

        Here’s a perhaps unworkable option: restaurants which would benefit from the increased sidewalk space would help pay the cost of the sidewalk widening, either in a single sum or over some extended period as a kind of rent. They would benefit by essentially gaining more seating space. Clearly that would favor streets/blocks with high numbers of restaurants. Could it work?

    • Agree with all this, we can also use more dedicated separate bike lanes (paint is not infrastructure). Biking as a transportation means is far more efficient and eco friendly than cars.

  4. Why can’t defunct restaurants (or landlords?) take down their own sheds when their businesses close?

    • I imagine the landlords don’t want the expense, since they didn’t put them up to begin with. And the restaurants are long gone.

  5. Loved this article. Who knew the City let these restaurant owners walk away from their sheds and leave the whole mess for the City to clean up at the taxpayers’ expense! And did you know that restaurant owners could use Federal Restaurant Revitalization Funds [also your tax dollars] to build these lovely sheds. So we paid for them to go up — and we are paying for them to go down.

  6. What about sheds that were built in the summer but haven’t been used all winter? For example, the shed at Scallini Fedeli hasn’t been used in months, but is taking up valuable street parking and attracting rats.

  7. I am a fan of removing the dining sheds. They served their purpose and now they’re infringing on people in their homes and giving restaurants untaxed additional space at the expense of residents.
    Maybe we can start by limiting time open to 10 pm so at least people living above them get some relief. If they’re used for serving dinner let that happen but eliminate the drunken partying and loud people.

    • Very well said Steven and I couldn’t agree with you more. Noise complains rose at an astronomical rate since the beginning of the program – and these ugly sheds are no longer necessary (some even have music and Tv’s on all day)….I feel for the people living above or nearby (noise complains rose by 275% in 2020 and currently close to 100%)…shouldn’t the administration pay attention to this?
      Please take down all sheds and bring back NY to a friendlier and civilised place.

    • Its the city that never sleeps, and that means you too! :-)

  8. Why can’t the removal be the responsibility of the people who put it up in the first place? What does DOT have anything to do with it? This by design reeks bureaucratic incompetence and will no doubt lead to not much. This whole thing was ill conceived and irresponsible on the part of the city. It was supposed to be a temporary measure during the height of the pandemic which, as everyone has witnessed has turned into a land grab bonanza. To make it permanent is insane. They should all be removed by the owner until new policy is completed. Then start a new round of application , like liquor license, they have to pay for it and be taxed as real estate. Don’t forget, many structures are completely enclosed, fraud right in front of our eyes.

    • Because when these businesses fail, they typically file for bankruptcy and dissolve. There is no money or people left to dismantle anything.

  9. I agree that the outdoor dining scene needs to be re-thought now that the pandemic phase of Covid-19 has ended. Temporary seating outside in warm weather months, which can be removed in case of emergency or weather, should definitely stick around in some capacity. But these giant outdoor sheds, which not only look ugly, but also bring the sanitation issues mentioned above, should be coming to an end. We’ve also been relatively fortunate with snowfall over the last couple of years, but these permanent sheds could cause tremendous issues on that front if we have another bad winter.

    Example of a place managing outdoor seating well: Four Seasons. Some very pretty outdoor seats/dividers that they completely take indoors once the weather gets too cold for outdoor seating.

    Example of a place managing outdoor seating poorly: Zona. Gigantic, enclosed wooden sheds on both ends of the corner that largely obstruct the sidewalk and are an eyesore.

  10. There has to be a middle ground to help businesses grow and respect the neighborhood. Tribeca is well known not to be supportive of small businesses – as a result we have a lack of options and lack of money flowing into our area. Perhaps empty stores are a worse look?

  11. The easy answer to bankrupt businesses not cleaning up their messes is to require a deposit of enough money to tear the things down if they leave them up post closing – that way the city could just pay a 3rd party to do it.

  12. I was walking by the old Serenata space last Wednesday and a man was tearing down the structure that was on the raised platform by the door. He said that the street shed would also be taken down. It turns out that he is opening a new restaurant in the space. It will be a Greek restaurant. I mentioned that I had seen many different restaurants come and go in that space. He said, “I will be staying.” I wish him luck. He was hoping to open in two months.

  13. Now that indoor dining is back without the social distancing of tables, why should restaurants benefit from what can often amount to double their normal capacity thanks to the gift of real estate (i.e. the streets) from the city, real estate which properly belongs to to the citizens of New York?

    For decades sidewalk cafés have been allowed after application and agreements to strict rules. These are indeed a great social amenity for the city and should be kept — and encouraged! But structures built in the streets causing formerly three lane streets to become one lane with each illegally parked delivery truck — to say nothing of, more importantly, hindering firemen and emergency workers? No!

  14. Scalini Fedeli restaurant on Duane street. Outdoor dining has never been used and should be removed.

  15. Why don’t people ever stop complaining. Tribeca had armies of giant rats long before outdoor dining so stop blaming the creative restaurant industry for trying to stay in business. And to those who don’t stop complaining what do you suggest the city do with the hundreds of empty spaces left by restaurants that couldn’t make it. Maybe the bike riders need to start paying taxes to make up for those lost?

  16. First of all if you don’t live in NYC, we don’t care to hear your opinion, move along!

    Secondly, outdoor dining in NYC is fabulous and all sheds should be allowed to stay. Stop trying to tear down the small businesses!

    As a New Yorker, I’d prefer to eliminate some cars to decrease traffic, congestion and pollution! Thus eliminate bridge and tunnel commuters from driving into the city, use public transportation! It’s better for the environment and stimulates the tri-state mass transit, which is needed and will free up congestion for emergency vehicles!

    Lastly, the rat issue isn’t being caused from the outdoor sheds, it’s due to the sanitation budget cuts, leading to less frequent trash pick ups. All buildings residential and commercial are holding onto their trash much longer thus attracting more rats! Increase the trash removal frequency back to pre-pandemic levels, enforce side walk cleaning which has always been lacking in most neighborhoods and sterile the rat population.

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