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North End restaurant owners fight back against outdoor dining restrictions

North End restaurant owners fight outdoor dining restriction
North End restaurant owners fight outdoor dining restriction 02:18

BOSTON - When it comes to dining in Boston's North End, many patrons admit an outdoor option in the historic neighborhood is a popular one. "It's such a nice atmosphere to be outside in the fresh air," said Suzanne Kelley dining at Antico Forno.

But a group of North End restaurant owners has added to a federal suit filed in January saying it's an option that's off the table for them. "All we ever asked for was to be treated fairly and equitably," said Terramia and Antico Forno owner Carla Gomez.

They're calling out Boston Mayor Michelle Wu for discrimination and a lack of transparency. "We're not a communist state. We're a democratic city with a mayor elected to manage our affairs not to pick and choose who wins or loses," said Jorge Mendoza, owner of Vinoteca di Monica.

It was a pandemic-era policy put in place in 2020, but for the last two years the city has not allowed outdoor tables on the streets in the North End citing safety, noise, and trash issues.

North End outdoor dining
Outdoor dining in the North End CBS Boston

Resident Betsy Gabrielson says she agrees. "It was very difficult for neighbors; the streets were clogged, and the amount of refuse increased," she said.

The city allows dining on the sidewalk if there's 11 feet of clearance, but that's a threshold most restaurants in the neighborhood can't meet. Carla Gomez says it has hurt her bottom line, not to mention the money she says was wasted on outdoor furniture. "Hundreds of thousands of dollars because every year the game has changed, every year the barriers change," said Gomez.

Mayor Wu says she has the legal authority to stick to her policy. "The city was found solidly to have the authority and jurisdiction to make decisions about how our streets and public spaces are used," said Wu.

The restaurant owners are seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, including a refund of the $7500 fee they were charged for permits before these changes. "It adds ambience and if it's done in other neighborhoods, it should be allowed here. Give people the option," said diner Jennifer Howze.

That's the argument owners hope the court will agree with. The city has requested 45 days to respond to the amended suit filed this week.

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