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SD26's Proposed Sidewalk Café Gets Community Board Backing

By Jill Colvin | July 8, 2011 6:31pm | Updated on July 8, 2011 11:00pm

FLATIRON — Foodie favorite SD26's application for a new sidewalk café across the street from Madison Square Park earned Community Board 5's narrow backing Thursday night, despite some residents' objections.

SD26 is hoping to open a new seven-table café in front of their chic eatery on West 26th Street.

"I think it would liven up the block," said owner Tony May, the famed restaurateur who formerly ran the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center and later opened San Domenico NY on Central Park South.

"We’re going to create a little excitement right in front of the park," he said.

But Gayle Klein and Bob Foley, who sit on the board of managers at 15 Madison Square North, the building that houses the restaurant, spoke out against the plan at the hearing Thursday night.

The shared concerns from residents that there would be too little space left on the sidewalk for pedestrians to cross, especially when the new Museum of Mathematics opens on the block next year.

While pedestrians would have more than the required eight-feet of sidewalk space beside the café, Klein and Foley said that part of that space is covered with sidewalk grates — posing a challenge to women walking in heels.

They also raised concerns about second-hand smoke exposure for kids living in the building.

After hearing the objections, the board was torn.

"Our feeling was this was a very large sidewalk," said board member Ron Dwenger, speaking on behalf of the Consents and Variances Committee, which had backed the proposal before the full board meeting.

Dwenger said the block received relatively little foot traffic and he added that May had agreed to shorter hours and to pack up the tables and chairs whenever the park held large, public events, which the committee felt were positive steps.

But other members, including David Golab, sided with those who'd raised objections.

Board member Kevin Kim said he thought the sidewalk was just too narrow for the café and would create a "bottleneck effect," especially for parents pushing strollers.

In the end, the board sided narrowly in favor of the café, voting to approve it 17 to 13.

Klein said in a written statement after her public testimony: "SD26 is a fantastic restaurant and we support them whenever we can."

May plans to open the new café as soon as he receives the City Council's blessing, he said.