A crowd of at least a dozen people were waiting near the corner of 10th Street and A Avenue on Tuesday night. The hottest club in town, or at least the East Village, was actually the Manhattan Community Board 3 meeting – one of its first in-person meetings since the pandemic began. On the agenda: to make alfresco dining permanent, meaning that the streets that proliferated during the pandemic would become a lasting feature of the city. That evening (and at future community council meetings around town), the town collects feedback on a change to the zoning code that would allow sidewalk cafes and streets to extend beyond commercial and manufacturing districts settle on residential blocks, as they did during the pandemic. While the Open Restaurants program has been a boon to the restaurant industry and to street life, there is growing opposition to keeping the streets for good – and the anti’s were in place, waving signs in black and yellow that read “Outdoor Dining Is Home Invasion” and “Outdoor Dining Feeds Rats”.
Inside the East Village Boys’ Club, more than 50 people sat in crooked rows of folding chairs in the first-floor auditorium, plus a dozen more stood in the back, and more more were stuck outside because the room was full. As officials from the Department of Transportation and Urban Planning presented the details of the plan, members of the audience rose from their chairs to boo and shout throughout the presentation – and it only got out of hand in go from there. Here is how the evening went.
6:40 p.m. | When I arrive, I see at least 12 people holding anti-street signs shouting at a woman handing out information flyers about the live broadcast of the meeting, demanding to be allowed in. A black and yellow sign reads: pandemic, how can this be a good idea? Under the word “this” are photographs of a dead rat and trash bags piled up next to a street.
6:43 p.m. The seats are already full when I walk into the auditorium, so I find a seat on a radiator in the back. Even though it is around 70 degrees outside, it is incredibly hot inside. I scan the crowd, predominantly white and middle-aged. A representative from the Department of Transport opens the meeting with an unrelated restaurant agenda item – the M14 SBS route – and it is a bit difficult to hear the voices entering through the open windows. A member of the community board comes out to ask people who weren’t allowed in to lower their voices.
6:57 p.m. | An NYPD agent – rarely seen at community council meetings – walks into the room and stands next to me. The presentation of the M14 bus ends and there are only a few questions. Obviously, most people are here to cry out about alfresco dining.
7:00 p.m. | The street presentation finally begins. Matthew Pietrus of the Planning Department said that based on the letters his department has received and the size of the crowd, “We understand that this is an exciting subject.” He introduces the two speakers, Jennifer Sta. Ines DOT and Carolyn Grossman by DCP.
7:10 p.m. | The boos from the audience begin shortly after the start of the presentation and grow louder as Sta. Ines says that regardless, the alfresco dining will continue in their current form throughout the winter. Someone in the crowd says, “Let her talk, calm down! When she says again that the program will continue, whether the city’s proposal passes or not, almost half of the room starts to shout, “WHY? WHAT FOR? WHY? “Perhaps the most elegantly dressed person in the room, a bald man in a navy suit and beige shoes, yells,” Why not? Everyone just shut up and let her talk! Sta Inès has barely spoken a word when people start booing and waving their signs again.
Photo: Valeria Ricciulli
7:24 p.m. | Grossman of City Planning explains how sidewalk cafes were historically regulated and shows a map detailing the areas where they are currently permitted. People mumble loudly and a lady shouts, “Who cares about this? Another gentleman shouts something inaudible and Grossman says, not for the first time, “I ask for your patience” – to which the man responds, “I’m perfectly patient!”
19:38 | The presentation ends and community council members begin asking questions. Community council member David Crane said the program “will turn this area into an outdoor drinking zone.” Another member says the open restaurant program is a “huge giveaway for restaurants.”
19:56 | A Latino in a baseball cap, Francisco Valera, stands up in the audience and interrupts the DCP representative by talking about the noise in his neighborhood and the audience applauds. A board member tells him to wait his turn, but he says, “I’m passionate, I have to say something” – and continues to rant that he can’t sleep and loves it. the neighborhood before sitting down.
7:58 p.m. | Here we go: community comments begin. One minute per person is allowed. Alexis Adler, a red-haired woman in a striped dress, begins with: “These sheds are rat traps – we are inviting the next pandemic with these sheds!
8:06 p.m. | A young man in his thirties named Sam Zimmerman stands up and speaks in favor of the program – just the second person to do so so far. He says meeting attendees are not representative of what the neighborhood actually thinks of the streets and that most people support the program. “The people who oppose it are people who express this stuff,” he says, and is quickly booed. “There are 165,000 people in this neighborhood,” he continues. “How many of them are here?” People don’t want to be yelled at by their neighbors. Everyone is muttering loudly, and someone is shouting “Where are you from?” and he replies: “From here!”
Photo: Valeria Ricciulli
8:11 p.m. | The comments continue, but some people start heading for the door. One of the board members says something to the cop standing next to me, who immediately walks over to the front of the auditorium, sitting right next to Valera – the guy who previously interrupted the board of directors. Valera yells, “I don’t feel safe, sorry! Don’t sit next to me, sir, because I don’t feel safe, ”and moves across the room.
8:18 p.m. | The cop backs up next to me. A woman arrives with a black dachshund dog that occasionally barks on the loudspeakers. The comment period continues. A woman gets up to comment and points her finger at city officials and says, “Your presentation is wrong! “
8:32 p.m. | Things deteriorate as the comments turn into insults. “Stupid” is often used. A woman in a light purple shirt stands up and says there are three bars in her neighborhood. “I have a dog, he walks and he pees anywhere,” she adds, “so I don’t care if he pees at someone’s feet.”
8:40 p.m. | A guy named Marcel who seems to be in his thirties stands up and says, “You do this whole slide and you don’t mention the word ‘residents’ or the people who live here, you sit here with a blank face. He points to one of the DOT representatives and adds, “Yeah, especially you.” A council member calls on the public to stop the personal attacks. But people continue to stand up and curse city officials.
8:46 p.m. | People start to leave and start folding the chairs. One of the last to speak, an older man, pleads with his neighbors to disperse into the city. “There are going to be 59 community council meetings like this, but they won’t go the way we are,” he said. “We have to go to these meetings – we are needed elsewhere, not just here. “
9:00 p.m. | After the meeting, a handful of anti-street people holding signs linger outside, talking enthusiastically about what they plan to do next. A few jumps in front of the dazzling white beams of NY1 cameras, ready to relive the evening.