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Community Leaders Slam Council's Idea to Raise Cap on Street Vendor Permits

By Shaye Weaver | October 6, 2015 3:13pm
 A vendor selling his wares, mainly jewelry, on East 86th Street nearest to Lexington Avenue.
A vendor selling his wares, mainly jewelry, on East 86th Street nearest to Lexington Avenue.
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DNAinfo/Shaye Weaver

UPPER EAST SIDE — Community leaders slammed an idea floated by officials to increase the number of permits given out to street vendors, saying their proliferation in the neighborhood already causes excessive litter and congestion on the sidewalks.

On the Upper East Side, street vendors are set up at nearly every corner of Fifth Avenue, and tend to cluster up on Lexington and Third avenues across the neighborhood, especially in the high 70s and mid-80s, particularly near the subway stops at East 77th and East 86th streets.

"There’s litter from food vendors, food waste, we have rats, we have sidewalk congestion, we have non-compliance all over the place, whether it's them setting up on top of a fire hydrant, or less 20 feet in front of an entrance," said Upper East Side resident Andrew Fine. "At East 86th and Third Avenue, the sidewalk ... is reduced to 6 or 7 feet. I just don’t understand why there is a need for street vending in general."

The city currently issues 3,000 year-round food truck permits and 853 general merchandise permits, in addition to 1,000 seasonal permits, according to the city's street vending fact sheet.

While no legislation has yet been put forward, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is considering an increase in the number of permits the city issues each year or an elimination of the cap altogether, according to a spokeswoman for Mark-Viverito.

The idea was also supported by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, according to her budget plan released in March.

In response to reports of messy street corners, narrowed sidewalks and illegal business stemming from some street vendors over the years, community leaders want the city to ramp up enforcement before considering an increase on the cap.

Just at the intersection of East 86th Street and Lexington Avenue, there were 16 street vendor-related complaints filed with 311 in the past year, according city records.

Community Board 8's Street Vendors committee decided on Wednesday to write a letter to the City Council to denounce a permit increase and to call on city officials to see for themselves how prolific street vending is affecting neighborhoods.

"The way current conditions are ... we don’t feel the city is in the position to raise the cap on vendors, given the reality on the street and the number of complaints," said co-chair Michele Birnbaum. "We need to stop this from happening now because it's on a roll."

Since 2006, the committee has recommended that the City Council take a number of actions to cut down on the impact sidewalk businesses have on pedestrians, including establishing a new permitting system, forming aesthetic guidelines, creating a dedicated enforcement agency and a compliance tracking system, to holding food vendors to the same standards as brick and mortar restaurants.

Food vendor and veteran Armando Crescenzi said he supports regulation of his industry, but added that vendors should have a clear voice in the process.

"If you're going to deputize anybody, deputize the vendor," he said. "I don’t want a million bogus/fake handbag guys or messy food guys around me. Most of us want to make a living and care about the neighborhood and have kids in schools."