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New York City Council Discusses Plan To Make Outdoor Dining Permanent

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A City Council committee was looking at a proposal Tuesday that would make outdoor dining permanent. Hundreds of people showed up, passionate on each side of the issue.

CBS2's Lisa Rozner has more on whether eating outside will be part of the city's future.

At Osteria 57 on West 10th Street, the owners have pumped around $100,000 into creating cabins with heating and air conditioning inside, and curtain enclosures.

"It took us about two months to put it up. It was ready by the end of the year and it has been our saving grace for all of 2021," co-owner Emanuele Nigro said.

And while pretty, elaborate dining structures could be no longer allowed in 2023. The city says setups with barriers and tents or umbrellas are the future.

"This program is really being planned for a post-COVID scenario where you can dine outside when that feels nice and comfortable, but you won't need to be in a house on the street," said Julie Schipper, director of open restaurants for the Department of Transportation.

The proposal has the DOT overseeing the program with its own enforcement. No one would be grandfathered in and businesses that want sidewalk and street seating need to reapply. It will cost $1,050 for a license plus a $525 renewal fee over a specified time period and there must be certain safety measures and restrictions in place.

However, 64% of community boards are against the idea altogether.

"After all, this is public land and being applied for commercial and private use," said Josephine Beckmann, district of Community Board 10, which serves Dyker Heights, Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton. "Pedestrians have complained about visibility. We, too, have seen an increase of 500% in noise complaints."

Added Councilwoman Sandy Nurse, "My primary concern is wooden shed structures, that create protected environments for rodents to make nests."

"I live in the East Village. There are many restaurants that have been abandoned, so there's garbage piled up everywhere," Elise Hurley said.

"There was an emergency and we're past that emergency now," Councilman Kalman Yeger added.

In the Bronx, alone, prior to the pandemic there were 30 outdoor cafes. Now, there's more than 600.

The NYC Hospitality Alliance says 91% of restaurants feel keeping outdoor dining is very important to the future of their business.

"Our margins over the past 10 years have slowly declined and food costs and labor costs continue to go up," said Koorosh Bakhtiar, co-owner of Gelso + Grand.

"People are eating outside at all times. You see snowstorms and people are eating outside. But the rules need to be implemented," co-owner Nima Garos added. "It'll definitely help us."

The next step is a council committee needs to vote on the proposal.

There are more than 12,000 restaurants currently certified to use sheds as outdoor dinning space in the city.

CBS2's Elijah Westbrook contributed to this report.

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