"The City is proposing to eliminate all geographic restrictions in the Zoning Resolution and any other zoning regulations applicable to sidewalk cafes and make all restaurants with ground floor access potentially able to have sidewalk and roadway (parking lane) cafes, subject to siting and clear path requirements to be developed by the City’s DOT; cafes would need a revocable consent from DOT and must be ADA compliant. That means that restaurants on Fifth Avenue, major crosstown streets, and in parts of Chinatown, among other locations, can potentially apply to DOT to have a sidewalk cafe. DOT will develop new standards for sidewalk cafes. Existing sidewalk cafes would be protected either by being grandfathered or by flexibility in the new DOT regulations, as appropriate. This zoning proposal started public review this week and is expected to be adopted before the end of 2021. The full proposal will also require the City Council to amend certain laws in order to make the DOT the single agency with overall responsibility for sidewalk cafes and to allow the DOT to adopt new rules. The full set of changes is expected to be effective at the end of 2022/early 2023.
If you own or lease or have a client who has a building with a ground floor restaurant tenant, existing limitations in the lease that prohibited such cafes may no longer be sufficient to prohibit the sidewalk/roadway café. For example, assuming the only restriction is a provision in the lease that requires a tenant to comply with zoning, while this might have been sufficient to prevent a sidewalk cafe, after adoption of this proposal, such limitation will no longer be enough if you do not want to allow such use. Similarly, if you operate or represent a ground floor restaurant tenant that was prohibited from a café because of zoning, that restriction would be removed."