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City Looking to Allow More Sidewalk Cafes in Long Island City and Sunnyside

LONG ISLAND CITY — Good news for Queens residents who like dining al fresco: the Department of City Planning is looking to amend zoning rules to allow for sidewalk cafes in parts of Long Island City and Sunnyside where they're currently banned.

Penny Lee, a representative from the DCP's Queens office, said special zoning districts within the two neighborhoods — with burgeoning dining scenes — are not included on the list of city districts where sidewalk dining is allowed, something the proposal is looking to change.

Some sidewalk cafes already exist — with proper city licenses — along some of these streets, Lee said, though they are technically illegal under current zoning rules.

"We’re both legalizing existing sidewalk cafes in Hunters Point and then proposing to allow them throughout the special zoning district," Lee said at a recent Community Board 1 hearing.

If approved, the amendment would lift restrictions on unenclosed sidewalk cafes along main commercial thoroughfares in Dutch Kills, Queens Plaza, Court Square, and Hunters Point, as well as a one-and-a-half block stretch of Skillman Avenue in Sunnyside, between 46th and 48th Streets, where they're currently not allowed (for a complete list of affected streets, see the attached map).

Restaurants would still have to apply for permits with the Department of Consumer Affairs and have them approved, and would need to meet the same sidewalk space requirements, Lee said.

"Even though we’re doing this text change, business still have to go through the regulation process," she said.

In nearby Astoria, sidewalk cafes already abound, drawing locals and visitors to popular spots like 30th Avenue, which has dozens of outside eateries. The proliferation of sidewalk cafes has been a point of contention in the past, with some residents complaining about the noise they bring.

But at a recent CB1 meeting, residents expressed support for the proposed amendment and saw more outdoor eating options as an added attraction for the areas outlined in the plan.

"We think they’ll bring a vibrancy, and help the residential aspect of the community," said Dominic Stiller, president of the Dutch Kills Civic Association.

City Planning is hoping the amendment will be approved by this spring, Lee said. 

"Just in time for sidewalk cafes," she said.