CB1 Takes Stand on Lower Manhattan’s Number One and Number Two Concerns
Community Board 1 (CB1) is pushing to close a loophole in City regulations that allows restaurants to ignore their outdoor seating capacity when calculating whether they are required to provide restrooms for customers.
Under a longstanding quirk of New York law, only those food service establishments that have 20 or more seats and opened after 1977 are required to provide a bathroom for customers. In a more recent wrinkle, this mandate was never updated to account for the dozens of extra seats by which many restaurants expanded their capacity, under the City’s pandemic Open Restaurant outdoor dining program, which allowed eateries to create extra space on sidewalks and in streets.
“Exempting any food service establishment from providing bathroom access should no longer be allowed,” states the CB1 resolution, passed in committee on April 25. “All restaurants and bars, as well as other establishments that sell food and beverages to be consumed on their premises, should be required to provide access to safe, well maintained bathroom facilities.”
Recalling that the Open Restaurant program was created via an emergency measure to help restaurants by augmenting indoor capacity with theoretically safer outdoor seating, CB1 notes, “the use of public space for private profits needs to recompense the public, starting with holding participating restaurants fully accountable for their true occupancy.”
Such a change would offer a disproportionate benefit to Lower Manhattan, which the Coalition United for Equitable Urban Policy (CUEUP) characterizes as “saturated beyond endurance” with outdoor dining sheds. Data from the administration of Mayor Eric Adams indicates there are nearly 13,000 of the sheds throughout the five boroughs, with 582 of these concentrated in the eight residential zip codes of southern Manhattan. Implementing the CB1 mandate could create several hundred new restrooms Downtown.
This follows a May 2022 resolution in which CB1 issued a broader call for public restrooms in a wide range of facilities, such as parks, government offices, and outdoor plazas. The measure noted, “the availability of public toilets is necessary to allow people to manage a basic human need” and also called upon the City’s Department of Transportation to make good on its commitment to install a public restroom on Centre Street Plaza, alongside the Municipal Building. That public restroom remains unbuilt. According to official City records, the municipal government contracted in 2006 to build 20 automatic public toilets, but most of these have languished for more than a decade in Queens warehouse.