In an effort to bolster business on 8th Street and 6th Avenue in Greenwich Village, the Village Alliance Business Improvement District is exploring plans to allow local restaurants and bars to add about a dozen new sidewalk cafés. The plan, which would require changing city zoning regulations to allow cafés on Eighth Street between 6th Avenue and Broadway and on 6th Avenue between West 10th Street and Waverly Place, is still in the early stages, but some local residents are already expressing concern over quality-of-life issues such as excessive noise and sidewalk congestion.
“The Village Alliance is exploring the introduction of small sidewalk cafés as one of several efforts to revitalize 8th Street, hit hard by the struggling economy over the past three years,” said William Kelley, the BID’s executive director.
In the last couple of years, several well-known 8th Street restaurants have shuttered, including Tanti Baci, Rabbit in the Moon, Is Wine, 8th Street Kitchen and Patty & Bun.
Kelley said that the plan, which was presented recently to CB2’s land use and business development committee, calls specifically for small sidewalk cafés, defined by the city as a single row of tables and chairs within four and a half feet. He noted that the sidewalk cafés would both enrich the area and help local business owners compete with other restaurants on nearby blocks.
Brad Hoylman, chairman of CB2, emphasized that the Alliance’s plan is still only preliminary at this point and has not yet entered into the city’s uniform land use review procedure.
“We have encouraged the Village Alliance to conduct extensive outreach to local block associations before presenting this to the board. Residential support for this proposal will be key to its success,” Hoylman explained.
But a consensus in support of the plan may be difficult to come by.
“We don’t see any benefit at all for residents in having cafés, which crowd the sidewalks and will exacerbate the very serious recent increase in street noise,” said Cormac Flynn, president of the West 8th Street Block Association.
However, Flynn added, “If the business community thinks they are important, we are willing to consider a comprehensive solution that allows for cafés in return for relief for residents on late-night noise.”
Paulette Sinclair has been living on 8th Street since 1970, and she is concerned about getting through crowds on the streets and sidewalks if the sidewalk café plan is approved.
“I think restaurants and bars can be the cause of a lot of problems for residents,” Sinclair says.
“The store under me—I am on the second floor—is leaving, and I’ve heard that the space is being shown for a possible restaurant. I am worried, frankly, about possible noise, including loud music,” she said. “People living on the street side will get the noise from people talking as they smoke outside the door.”
A recent study by the Alliance revealed that about 22 restaurants in the designated rezoning area meet Department of Consumer Affairs requirements for adequate sidewalk width to support a sidewalk café. Of those, about a dozen have expressed interest in applying for the permit.
Richard Stewart, an 8th Street resident for more than 20 years, worries that the plan could pave the way for an unwanted “restaurant row” in the area.
“The Village Alliance always works hard to improve our neighborhood. However; I believe their idea to apply for a variance to allow sidewalk cafés on 8th Street is not the right course,” said Stewart, a member of CB2.
“I fear the approval of this variance would only open the gates to a late-night ‘restaurant row,’ a concept that is constantly challenging the livability of many residential neighborhoods here in The Village,” Stewart explained.
He pointed out the need for various types of businesses in city neighborhoods, asking, “How many restaurant rows do we really need?”
Even if the rezoning plan is ultimately approved, restaurants interested in opening sidewalk cafés would still need to appear before CB2 and obtain a license from the Department of Consumer Affairs.
Kelley reiterated that the plan is still a long way from approval. As part of Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, the proposal must first go through the Department of City Planning, then back to CB2 for another round of votes, followed by review by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s office.
After clearing those hurdles, the plan would still be subject to approval by the City Planning Commission and City Council.
Kelley said the Alliance has scheduled a meeting later this month with the Department of City Planning to discuss community ideas and suggestions.
“We’re still in the listening phase with this plan,” Kelley said. “We really want to see if we can get this right.”
—By Alan Krawitz
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