July 7, 2020 By Allie Griffin
A coalition of Jackson Heights restaurant owners and residents want Mayor Bill de Blasio to simplify the permit process for sidewalk seating on a permanent basis.
The “37th Avenue Sidewalk Cafe Coalition” created a petition calling on de Blasio and the city council to continue the streamlined application process for sidewalk seating permits — in which restaurant owners can self-certify at no cost — permanently.
The city has simplified the sidewalk seating permit process to allow for more outdoor dining amid the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, restaurant owners can self-certify online in minutes and at no cost.
The group of local restaurant owners wants to see the easier process continued long term.
Sidewalk seating permits granted through self-certification expire Oct. 31 and small restaurant owners say the typical application process is costly, time-consuming and complicated — especially for owners who aren’t fluent in English.
The standard process takes about five months and involves meeting zoning requirements and the approval of the Department of Consumer Affairs. The DCA requires detailed architectural drawings as to the seating configuration and the plans must be reviewed by community boards. The fees for the space costs thousands.
Many Jackson Heights restaurant owners are immigrants. Some cannot afford the expensive permit costs and many have trouble navigating the convoluted application process and requirements set by City Hall.
The coalition is advocating for restaurant owners on 37th Avenue from 73rd Street in Jackson Heights to Grand Central Parkway in Corona to have easier access to sidewalk seating permits.
“We want the certification process to be streamlined and easier for merchants to apply,” said Alfonso Quiroz, a long-time community leader who formed the coalition.
The members want “permitting fees be reduced to a minimum” and “much of the red tape abolished,” he said.
Quiroz said extending the simplified process will help struggling restaurants recoup some of the revenue they’ve lost in the months-long shutdown. It will also allow restaurants to continue to serve customers even if the coronavirus pandemic continues into next year.
Last week, De Blasio said the city will expand outdoor dining as indoor dining may not reopen for months. He did not provide details.
The city has halted the reopening of indoor dining — which was slated to begin Monday in Phase III of the state’s reopening plan — indefinitely. De Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo pointed to an uptick in COVID-18 cases in several states where indoor restaurants and bars are open.
The Jackson Heights petition has garnered more than 100 signatures and aims to deliver some relief to Jackson Heights eateries.
Quiroz said he hopes the petition will spur conversations between small restaurant owners and elected officials.
“We want this petition to be the start of a larger conversation that will help businesses along 37th Avenue thrive and residents in Jackson Heights eat outside safely,” he said.
He wants the city to look at what has and hasn’t worked with sidewalk seating and to engage with small business owners on the issue.
State Sen. Jessica Ramos, whose district includes Jackson Heights, and local Council Member Daniel Dromm said they are both supportive of the coalition’s efforts to make the process easier.