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City Proposes Cutting Street Fairs and Raising Permit Fees

By Julie Shapiro | December 27, 2011 2:30pm

LOWER MANHATTAN — Manhattan's ubiquitous street fairs might be harder to find next summer.  

The city has quietly proposed new rules governing the greasy food fests and other special events, increasing permit fees and limiting nonprofits and community groups to just one fair per year.

In lower Manhattan, where the city already banned weekday street fairs, the new rules would force Community Board 1 to cut back on its usual six or seven annual street-fair fundraisers.

"The mayor's office is really cracking down on street fairs, especially in lower Manhattan," said John Fratta, chairman of CB1's Street Fair Task Force. "They're basically stopping us from raising revenue."

The board usually raises about $30,000 a year by sponsoring the fairs, which it says offsets city budget cuts and allows the board to buy office supplies and equipment.

CB1 passed a resolution last week strongly opposing the city's proposal and voicing concern that it will force groups to hold one large fair each year rather than several smaller ones.

"The proposed amendments would be detrimental to the ability of CB1 and other organizations to raise needed funds," CB1 wrote in the resolution, "and would have a detrimental effect on quality of life by encouraging larger, more disruptive events rather than small ones that historically have not produced problems or complaints."

Mark Thompson, chairman of Community Board 6, which covers Murray Hill and Gramercy, was also concerned to hear about the proposed change.

CB6 sponsors three street fairs per year and uses the money to run its office, Thompson said.

"It's not a major amount of money, but it helps us bridge the gap of what's been cut," Thompson said. "[The new rule] would hurt us financially. It would put us in a very difficult situation."

The city's proposed rules would also increase the permit fees for events that require street closures, according to city documents.

The fee for a small event, which has minimal impact on pedestrian and vehicular traffic, will rise from $2,600 to $3,100, and the fee for a medium event, which requires some use of the street or sidewalk, will rise from $6,500 to $11,000, according to the city's proposal, obtained by DNAinfo.

The city is also proposing to break large events into new subcategories, with fees ranging from $25,000 to $66,000. Currently, all large events that typically involve street closures and traffic changes have a flat fee of $38,500, according to city documents.

In its proposal, the Street Activity Permit Office said it needs to increase the fees "to account for administrative and manpower costs incurred by city agencies to review, evaluate, and approve or deny an application, as well as provide oversight and security for an event, at agencies including [the Office of Citywide Event Coordination and Management], SAPO, Police Department, Fire Department, Department of Transportation and Department of Buildings."

Noah Pfefferblit, CB1's district manager, said it was not immediately clear if the fee increases would affect community groups and nonprofits, but the board is concerned about the changes.

He and several board members are also hoping the city will reverse its ban on weekday street fairs south of Canal Street.

The mayor's office put the ban into effect last spring, citing the large amount of construction in the area, and promised to reevaluate it in the spring of 2012.

In the meantime, CB1 is frustrated that the Street Activity Permit Office has refused to meet with the community to discuss the weekday moratorium and proposed rule changes.

"They've rejected our invitation several times," Pfefferblit said. 

The mayor's office, which runs the Street Activity Permit Office, did not respond to requests for comment.