Boston’s outdoor dining program initiated early in the coronavirus pandemic to help drive up business at struggling restaurants has been made permanent, but with some stricter rules to address unique challenges in the city’s North End.
Restaurants in most city neighborhoods will be allowed to set up tables on sidewalks and some street spaces as early as May 1, subject to city approval of engineering plans, the administration of Mayor Michelle Wu announced Thursday. Establishments with liquor licenses must pay $399 per month and those without, $199 per month.
“Outdoor dining expanded as a way to keep our businesses open during the pandemic, and has turned into a popular opportunity to enjoy our streets and each other’s company,” Wu said in a statement.
In the historically Italian North End, however, on-street dining will no longer be allowed and sidewalk dining will be limited to establishments with “adequate” sidewalk width.
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The different rules in the North End were in response to the special issues the neighborhood and its maze of narrow streets faces, city officials said. The North End, which draws visitors from all over the world, has the highest concentration of restaurants in the state, with 95 establishments in just over one-third of a square mile.
That brings challenges surrounding traffic, access for public safety vehicles, sanitation and residents’ quality of life. Traffic is expected to be worse this summer with nearby major construction projects.
Nick Varano, owner of Strega restaurant in the neighborhood, was not happy with the city’s plan.
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“I believe it’s not very fair, and it puts us at a disadvantage with other neighborhoods in the city,” he told the Boston Herald.
Last year, the city’s outdoor dining program brought complaints from North End residents and a legal challenge from some business owners who said the higher fees they were asked to pay were illegal.
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The city plans to put together a task force to come up with remedies to the North End’s al fresco dining challenges.
“We’ve taken what we learned over the last couple years to inform the permanent program, and we’re committed to working with our neighborhoods to make this program a success,” Wu said.