Outdoor dining has been a lifeline for many New York City restaurants over the past two years. It’s also been a nuisance for some locals, who have complained about noise, trash and other conditions they find unfavorable.
The alliance CUEUP (Coalition United for Equitable Urban Policy) is one group trying to fight the continuation of outdoor dining in the city. It filed a lawsuit recently in the Manhattan state supreme court seeking to stop the city from making outdoor dining structures permanent, The New York Times reported this week. A previous lawsuit from the group had ended with an order for the city to conduct an environmental review of the sheds, which the city is appealing.
Originally, in mid-2020, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio issued an order allowing restaurants to set up shop on the streets. Mayor Eric Adams has continued to extend that order, while letting other pandemic-era accommodations, such as vaccine requirements and mask mandates, lapse. Michael Sussman, a lawyer for CUEUP, argued in the Times that this shows “there is no public health emergency” anymore, and that Adams is overreaching in his attempts to allow outdoor dining.
For his part, Adams has voiced support for outdoor dining, but has acknowledged that it’s not always meeting ideal standards. “Whatever I can do to help our restaurant industry that employs dishwashers, waiters, bus boys and girls—this is an important industry, and it is an indicator of our city,” he said at a news briefing on Monday. But “some of the outdoor dining locations have become a hazard” and are “not suitable.”
This isn’t the first time a difference of opinion on the practice has made it to court. Earlier this summer, a handful of restaurants were feuding with their landlord, who wanted them to get rid of their outdoor dining structures, because the tenants who lived above the restaurants argued they were ruining the character of the neighborhood. That sentiment was echoed in CUEUP’s recent lawsuit, which includes more than 30 affidavits from every borough but Staten Island detailing how outdoor dining has dissolved the city’s quality of life. “Where I used to be able to smell the trees as I walk my dog, it now smells like decay and urine,” one longtime Williamsburg resident said.
Adams, who has not addressed the issue of executive overreach, said on Monday that the CUEUP lawsuit will “play itself out.” People on both sides of the issue will be waiting to see what that entails.