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Mayor Wu clarifies North End outdoor dining fee amid controversy

Many North End restaurant owners are upset by the $7,500 fee which has just been imposed on them.

Pedestrians walks past Modern Pastry on a sidewalk along outdoor dining areas in the North End, Wednesday, May 26, 2021, when patios were set up around the neighborhood. Mary Schwalm

Many North End restaurant owners are unhappy with Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s decision to charge them $7,500 to offer outdoor dining this year, something not asked of restaurants in other neighborhoods.

But Monday on WBUR’s Radio Boston, Wu said there will be some accommodations to help North End restaurants with the fee.

“I really believe that the vast majority of community members are on the same page here — both the restaurant owners and the residents who all just want to see a safe, thriving, healthy, livable community,” she said.

First, Wu said restaurants could pay the fee in installments. Additionally, she said, if restaurants didn’t want to offer outdoor dining for the whole season, their fee would reflect that.

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On the show, Wu also said there will be a process for “hardship waivers,” but declined to give details before Tuesday’s 2 p.m. press conference on the subject.

Restaurant owners in the North End have rallied against the fee, sending a letter to Wu’s Office decrying the move, and have also threatened to sue the city.

But Mayor Wu said on WBUR that the goal of the fee is to balance the interests of North End residents with that of restaurant owners.

“I know that some of the tension here is that certain restaurant owners believe that it’s not fair that…even if this is affordable to them, that restaurant owners in other parts of the city aren’t being charged, and so they feel that they’re being targeted,” she said.

Wu and her administration have explained before that the fee is meant to offset the impacts of outdoor dining on North End residents. They say the narrow streets of the North End cause outdoor dining to extend into the street, causing trash, rat, traffic, and parking problems.

The money from the fee would be used to help alleviate these problems.

“It is a very different situation in the North End compared to elsewhere,” she said on WBUR. “The North End’s sidewalks are very narrow, and so the patios can’t fit on the sidewalks. They fit in the street, taking up parking spaces, putting diners close to traffic, in a neighborhood where there already were no alleys where food drop-off, deliveries, and parking could happen.”

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On the radio show, Wu reiterated that she would consider rescinding outdoor dining in the North End if restaurant owners find the offer unworkable.

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