Alfresco dining has served as a lifeline for restaurants as they struggle to stay afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But a lawsuit filed July 27 claims that outdoor structures that have sprung up on sidewalks and curbs have not only exceeded their intended purpose, but are harming the health and safety of those who live near them.
The 10-page complaint, naming New York City and the state as defendants, includes five Queens residents among 35 petitioners and says the emergency conditions that prompted the creation and proliferation of the outdoor structures no longer exist. , and that the state and the city no longer exist. have the authority to continue to extend ongoing emergency declarations.
The lawsuit, filed by attorney Michael Sussman of Goshen, NY, states that even though emergency conditions and restrictions have been eased or eliminated, outdoor structures — even those no longer used for dining — are no longer no longer justified or necessary.
“By July 2022, CEOs of respondents [Mayor Adams and Gov. Hochul] had abandoned vaccination and mask mandates, indoor dining occupancy limitations and social distancing requirements and acknowledged that no public health emergency exists,” the suit reads on page 5. “ Restaurants, bars and taverns in New York City are once again now allowed to use indoor capacity at pre-pandemic occupancy levels, and they do so throughout the responding city.
The complaint says the city and state have since relied on economic justification to extend the temporary outdoor dining program.
“However, such a rationale does not provide sufficient legal basis for an emergency order in New York in the absence of an underlying public or natural health emergency, none of which currently exists… In reality , no public health emergency exists and, therefore, there is no premise for TOR.
As a retired police officer, former president of the PTA, and now chairman of the board of the Southridge Cooperative Section 3 complex, Ricardo Pacheco of Jackson Heights is an experienced observer of the community around him.
He is one of 35 petitioners, approached, he says, after becoming a vocal critic on his Twitter account.
“I’m retired. I go for walks. I like restaurants,” Pacheco said.
He told the Chronicle about the conditions he and others mentioned in their affidavits. Complaints include that shacks near the sidewalk eliminate parking — “which the businesses you’re trying to help need,” Pacheco said — force residents to navigate around structures, furniture, delivery bikes and scooters on sidewalks; subjecting those who live near bars and taverns to dealing with loud patrons and sometimes music late into the night; and cause a stench of standing water when they block street sewers.
Pacheco and others state that the structures have drawn rats, mice, and cockroaches in their wake; and unruly or drunken patrons encroaching – and worse – on their sidewalks, steps and yards.
Pacheco said many of them he has seen now are not used for dining, but for outdoor storage of tables, chairs and other items.
Asked about the lawsuit this week, Mayor Adams said the situation needed fixing, not the elimination of outdoor dining.
“As has been repeatedly reported, nightlife is a multi-billion dollar industry,” Adams said in a partial transcript of a press conference provided by his office. “And our restaurateurs have gone through a very difficult time. Some of them are still back in their payments. And anything I can do to help our restaurant industry which employs dishwashers, waiters, busboys and busgirls, it’s an important industry and it’s an indicator of our city.
The trial, Adams acknowledged, will take place on its own.
“But I’m a fan of outdoor dining,” he said. “I think we need to change it because some of the outdoor eating places have become a hazard. They have become unsuitable places.
Adams believes there are ways to change and standardize how structures look and how they should be used.
“It cannot be used for storage. It cannot be used for any other things. But I am a fan of outdoor dining. And I believe that was a lifeline for the restaurant industry.
Councilwoman Joann Ariola (R-Ozone Park), in an email from her office, said the time had come to vacate the structures.
“These sidewalk sheds were vital during the pandemic because they allowed businesses to continue to serve their customers when indoor dining was prohibited,” the adviser said. “Now that we have resumed indoor dining, there is no reason for these remnants of lockdown to remain in place.”
Ariola said they were taking up valuable parking spaces in already congested commercial corridors, becoming eyesores and negatively impacting the quality of life of the people who live and work around them. She also cited health issues from the creatures and critters they attracted; and people who started using them for taking drugs or drinking after hours.
“There is no need for them to remain on our streets, and as we continue our journey towards recovery, an important step forward is to clear the streets of these structures and return our communities to a pre-norm, a standard in which such hangars did not exist,” Ariola wrote.