As fall officially began Tuesday, and with other major cities already unveiling cold-weather dining plans, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised a decision “very soon” on whether and how to let restaurants continue offering outdoor dining throughout the colder temps.
“In fact, it’s on the agenda — I think even later on today — to try and resolve that. We’re going to work with the city agencies, with the state,” de Blasio told reporters during a City Hall press briefing Tuesday.
De Blasio said he wants “to see what we can do to address” the possibility of extending outdoor dining throughout the fall and winter “fairly” because “I want to give every possible opportunity to our restaurants to succeed and survive.”
“It comes with real health and safety concerns that have to be addressed that are different than what we have during warmer weather, obviously, because in warmer weather you have much more possibility of open air,” de Blasio said, noting, “There’s still some real issues to be worked through, but we’ll have an announcement on it soon.”
The city’s outdoor dining program – born out of the coronavirus pandemic – is set to expire on Oct. 31.
Thanks to the program, thousands of struggling Big Apple restaurants and bars have been allowed claim sidewalk and curb space for tables and chairs to counter the loss of indoor dining capacity caused by the health crisis and social distancing restrictions.
Next Wednesday, city restaurants will finally be permitted to reopen for indoor dining, but only at 25 percent capacity.
Guidelines for indoor dining will be reassessed by Nov. 1 and they may be allowed to increase to 50 percent capacity depending on compliance with social distancing and mask-wearing and coronavirus infection data, state officials have said.
Still, restaurateurs are hoping for an extension of outdoor dining.
And one key sticking point for them are city rules surrounding the use of outdoor heaters.
The Big Apple currently bans propane heaters and maintains strict rules surrounding the use of heaters powered with natural gas.
Currently, only permanently permitted sidewalk cafes are allowed to install natural gas heaters, which have to be connected to the building’s lines — and that can only be done with Buildings Department approval.
City Hall and the Buildings Department declined to provide any details about the current regulatory requirements for electric heaters, only saying it would be addressed in de Blasio’s upcoming announcement on the matter.
“It’s already getting cool at night, so the city needs to let restaurant owners know if they can expect to use other outdoor heating devices or not. Going through the lengthy permitting process is not realistic for restaurants at this point,” Andrew Rigie, the head of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, told The Post.
That stands in stark contrast to Boston, which last week extended its own temporary outdoor dining program and rolled out a permit process for propane-fueled outdoor heaters.
In Philadelphia, city officials say they are still hammering out wintertime outdoor dining rules, but sidewalk cafes there have a head start because outdoor heaters have been legal for years.
And Chicago on Monday rolled out its plan for outdoor sining through fall and possibly winter.
Meanwhile, Manhattan Councilman Keith Powers and Brooklyn Councilman Antonio Reynoso have pre-introduced a bill to permanently expand outdoor dining in New York City.
Powers told The Post Tuesday that the city’s outdoor dining program has proved to be “a smashing success with the ability to help small businesses make a living and have New Yorkers sitting outside.”
“We’re working to make it a permanent addition to the city,” he said, explaining, “We’re putting the rules in place. We’re allowing for outdoor heating, and this gives us a pathway.”
Making outdoor dining permanent “represents a lifeline to small businesses,” Powers said, adding, “Even as COVID continues into the winter, they have an opportunity to make a living here and we’re not sending them packing.”
The bill, if passed, would authorize “some sort of heating equipment to be used for cold weather, so that as it gets colder into the winter, folks can use a heater to do outdoor dining even as capacity stays low.”
“Ultimately what we’re doing is saying that outdoor dining is here to stay, to create some regulations around it and to allow for heating equipment to be used when it gets cold,” he said.
The City Council is slated to hold a hearing on the bill next week, Powers said.