2009-05-27 / Features

Board 1 Votes To Deny Sidewalk Cafe Renewal

BY RICHARD GENTILVISO

With the warm weather, sidewalk cafes beckon again with invitations to stop, sit and enjoy the day or evening. Pleasant open spaces, they generally add to the community.

The city Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), in its guidelines for unenclosed sidewalk cafes, attempts to reconcile the needs of cafe owners with the interests of the public. As such, each cafe has a legally limited location on the sidewalk to ensure adequate space for pedestrians.

At its May meeting, Community Board 1 reviewed applications for four unenclosed sidewalk cafes; one new and three renewals. The board approved all but one, a renewal for Athens Cafe.

Located at 32-07 30th Ave., Athens Cafe sought to renew its two-year license to operate an unenclosed sidewalk cafe with 28 tables and 86 seats. However, during the public hearing, a complaint that the maximum limit for tables and chairs is exceeded when the cafe is at capacity, leaving less than one foot of sidewalk for pedestrians, was raised and seconded by several board members.

The board's consumer affairs committee recommended renewal with a warning, but the full board voted 21 against, 17 in favor, and one abstention. The board's recommendation to deny is forwarded to the Department of Consumer Affairs, which will hold another public hearing within 30 days.

According to DCA's "clear path regulations" on all sidewalks, a minimum clear path of eight feet between the outer limit of the cafe and any object near the curb, including the curbstone, must be maintained. When a sidewalk is wider than 16 feet, the amount of clear path that must be kept is the greater of half (50 percent) of the distance from the building to the curb line.

Moreover, according to the 'table count' provision of DCA regulations, while sidewalk cafes may operate with fewer tables and chairs than they legally have been approved for, they must state the maximum number of tables used and they may not operate with more tables and chairs than their license states.

"Every free-standing table used by the cafe counts as one, even when connected or combined with another table," state DCA's guidelines. "Lack of courtesy to neighbors can lead to penalties."

A sidewalk cafe license and revocable consent to use public space, renewable every two years from the Department of Consumer Affairs, are needed to operate a portion of a restaurant on a public sidewalk. The size of the unenclosed or enclosed sections of a restaurant on a public sidewalk is restricted by the amount of free space on the sidewalk. Only restaurants on the ground floor are allowed to have cafes. Restaurants are not allowed to use the space of a next-door neighbor for their cafe.

New York City started legally allowing unenclosed sidewalk cafes in 1929. In the mid-1960s, city officials began to encourage restaurant owners to open more sidewalk cafes.

Renewals for unenclosed sidewalk cafes were approved for Pinocchio's Palace, 32-02 30th Ave. (18 tables, 37 chairs) and BAR, 32-90 36th St. (11 tables, 26 chairs). A new license was approved for Chicken Shack, 35-02 30th Ave. (12 tables, 31 chairs).

An application for a sidewalk newsstand on the west side of 31st Street south of Broadway was denied and an application for a special permit needed to operate a physical culture establishment at Planet Fitness, 30-33 Steinway St. was approved with stipulations.

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