April 29, 2024, Mayor's Column

Now that COVID is thankfully in our rear view mirror, a fair number of you have reached out to me and the Trustees to express your opinions in favor of and/or opposed to the continuation of outdoor dining in the Village as we are 3+ years into the experiment.

Knowing that some of our incredibly loyal merchants count on the outdoor dining as a continuing economic lifeline, combined with the fact that between the five of us in Village government, we have no expertise in the field of urban planning and/or restaurant operation, we reached out to professionals who assisted us in navigating the balance between our food merchants and so-called “dry goods” merchants as everyone is a part of this ever shifting consumer landscape.

As you remember, similar to our neighboring communities, we invoked our emergency powers to suspend planning, zoning, and parking regulations to allow our food establishments to create outdoor dining opportunities to frankly keep them afloat and also to accommodate Villagers who felt extremely uncomfortable sitting in any of our indoor eating establishments.

Recognizing the importance of our decisions to the economic vitality of the Village, we reached out and interviewed professionals in the field who have helped many other communities balance the synergy between food and non-food merchants and examine attenuating issues including parking, congestion, esthetics, sanitary conditions , safe passage, etc.

After interviewing multiple companies, we chose Street Plans and we have been working with them for over a year to find a vision for the business district that reflects the needs of all our constituents.

By way of background, Street Plans is an international planning, urban design and transportation planning practice with emphasis on public engagement to reach comprehensive planning and development goals. Their current projects include work throughout Connecticut and New York City, including the newly configured street-scape at One Vanderbilt across from Grand Central station.

We are honestly now at a crossroads and we understand that merchants do not want to spend money on outdoor upgrades if the program is going to change dramatically and rightly so. As a result, we have worked diligently to envision what the Village should look like in a new paradigm going forward.

We commissioned a complete review of our food establishments that are contributing to the aesthetic and ambiance of the Village. Issues that have been reviewed include the amount of garbage generated, trash pickup needs, noise, adherence to fire codes, traffic safety and the loss of parking spaces for customers of non-restaurant establishments. To be noted, outdoor restaurant owners currently pay the full cost of the parking spaces that their establishments occupy.

As backgrounding reference, the gradient of preference for outdoor dining has run the gamut from Larchmont fully embracing vs Rye removing most of their outdoor venues with most communities somewhere in between .

As illustration, our neighbors in Greenwich passed legislation to strike a balance by enacting new and rather stringent regulations that took effect on April 1st, including requiring restaurants with more than 12 outdoor seats to get site approval from the Planning and Zoning commissions for seasonal permits and corresponding use fees from April 1st to November 20th to be renewed annually. Failure to adhere to new regulations, including mandatory cleaning procedures, can result in permit suspensions and violations that are more egregious can result in revocation of usage.

Despite a quick pivot on allowing outdoor dining during COVID, we did achieve fairly consistent goals of aesthetic and attractiveness of our street-scape.

Conversely , we did have some rather make shift structures that did not add to the ambiance of the Village and we honestly let things slide a bit due to the length and severity of the pandemic.

Mindful that our downtown is truly a jewel of the small business districts in the County, we knew it was time to set standards, not only retain Village character but to  give our merchants some level of certainty as they consider investing money depending on our Village decisions .

The following are a sample of the outdoor dining standards for the Village of Bronxville for the 2024 season agreed upon by the Trustees in close collaboration with our incredibly loyal and understanding merchants:

  • Food establishments were required to submit an application form for installation of facilities starting on April 15th with the removal of facilities, mirroring Greenwich, on November 15th
  • Structures proposed to be built in the Village were reviewed by a Village board, in this case the Village Planning Board
  • A requirement that table service shall end at 9:45pm daily
  • Plants and flowers in any configuration shall remain well maintained
  • All  free standing  elements should be weighted at the base or heavy enough to sustain wind gusts
  • Electric heaters are permitted, but no longer propane
  • Non-amplified musical entertainment is allowed between 7pm to 9pm during a restaurant’s operating hours
  • Public waste receptacles shall not be used for restaurant waste
  • Dining platforms shall be flush with the curb to facilitate safe and ADA accessible access to a restaurant
  • Dining platforms must maintain adequate drainage
  • All furnishing shall be consistent in type, color and pattern and all of the cinder block barriers shall be replaced with black decorative bollards on the outer perimeters.

The Village Administrator, Eastchester Fire Chief, Bronxville Police Chief and Village Building Inspector will inspect all permitted facilities periodically and continuously throughout the season to ensure compliance with all guidelines. Any noncompliant merchant will be given a notice to cure and an amount of time consistent with the magnitude or complexity of the repair. Some of the issues to be evaluated include failure to maintain cleanliness, operating after permitted hours, violating the music entertainment standard, unsatisfactory esthetics, maintenance of planters, inoperable lighting or temporary signage.

As we roll out the new structures, we encourage feedback from you as residents as well as our Chamber of Commerce and merchant community as we are open to perfecting regulations to get the best possible outcome for the Village in terms of esthetics, parking, congestion, and above all balance and fairness to all our merchants and customers.