By Clara Grudberg
If local leaders have their way, an expanded version of al fresco dining may be coming to the Upper West Side.
After discussion and debate, the Business and Consumer Issues and Steering Committees of local Community Board 7 unanimously passed a resolution calling for creative use of open spaces by local restaurants and small businesses in a joint virtual meeting on Wednesday.
The resolution outlines some practical concerns that must be considered for businesses’ expansions into sidewalks or other open spaces. A potential obstacle are dedicated bus and truck routes on commercial streets like Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, which would encumber any commercial takeover of the roadspace.
Community Board 7 Chair Mark Diller highlighted that the provisions of the resolution would be temporary, meant only to aid businesses during the economic consequences brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Whatever it is that we recommend tonight will be temporary,” Diller said during the meeting. “Not temporary like one night, but temporary in the sense that it is intended to address the period of time in which the governor and the mayor tell us that restaurants and small businesses and other locations must use reduced capacity once they start to reopen their facilities, their shops, their restaurants.”
The resolution called for protocols to establish safety and cleanliness measures, as well as preservation of police operations and a quiet neighborhood atmosphere. Concerns about increased traffic and reckless driving were highlighted by Doug Kleiman, Vice Chair of Community Board 7, who called for proper signage designating open spaces for pedestrian use.
Board Member Susan Schwartz echoed Kleiman’s concerns, especially in relation to cyclists.
“I think it’s fantastic to give the restaurants more space to spread out, so people wouldn’t have to go into the facilities, but already it’s sort of a jungle out there, the delivery bikers and regular bikers are going every different direction,” Schwartz said. “If we’re going to start closing off different sections of the roadway, I think we really need to make sure we’ve got some good controls on this so that everyone stays safe.”
Although safety is important, the process for expanding into available open space should not be made overly difficult for businesses trying to get by despite the pandemic, said board member Richard Robbins.
“If we start setting up processes that are too complicated, it’ll take away from restaurants being able to do this expeditiously, which is most important,” Robbins said during the meeting. “I think we want broad strokes, and I think we want to think about how to set this up so things can happen really quickly, so we don’t get in the way, so agencies don’t get in the way.”
The committees also called for the Mayor’s office to appoint a “lead agency and point person” to take charge and coordinate rules for any business open space expansions. The provision was added to the resolution after board member Richard Asche pointed out the possibility that excessive bureaucratic minutiae could slow down the approval of expansions.
“The fear is with so many agencies involved it’s too easy to pass the buck and too easy to get bogged down somewhere,” Asche said during the meeting. “I’d like to propose an additional whereas, that the mayor appoint a city official and sufficient staff to coordinate and expedite approvals where necessary of city and state departments and agencies, and to liaise with affected community boards and other interested parties.”
Meeting attendees also heard from representatives of the Lincoln Square, Columbus Avenue and Columbus-Amsterdam Business Improvement Districts to gather information in order to aid planning efforts. Monica Blum, President of Lincoln Square BID, reported that only about 20% of businesses that she oversees are open for sidewalk delivery. She also added that she will be contacting Lincoln Center with a request for them to open their plaza for restaurant use.
The resolution will be brought forward for a full board vote at a June 2 meeting. You can register for the meeting at this link: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/2815905275131/WN_qGIJxHwRTMCjXgqjOuNt1w
Photo via flickr.