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City Hall is attempting to offset the impact of the crowds that have stormed the North End to eat outdoors in recent years by charging a $7,500 fee for restaurant owners who want to offer outside table service this year.
The move is an outlier in Boston, as restaurants in other neighborhoods will be subject to no such fee.
But city officials told restaurateurs on Thursday night they consider the payments necessary to address the “immediate impacts” the city’s outdoor dining pilot program has on the North End specifically, where narrow streets have created traffic and parking problems and other woes for residents in years past.
John Romano, the city’s deputy director for the Office of Neighborhood Services, said the funds collected will help offset issues ranging from trash displacement and rodents to traffic jams. The amount reflects costs determined by officials, and the new fee is the city’s response to concerns repeatedly voiced by people in the neighborhood, he said during a virtual meeting.
The charge will be in addition to the fees restaurants who have participated in the program in years past have also paid to help offset the loss of street parking.
“This is what it will cost to opt into this program for the North End because it is a program (that) impacts the neighborhood unlike any other neighborhood across the board,” Romano said. “We have seen that for the past two years, and we have also seen that that impact has not gone away as things have reopened.”
According to Ciara D’Amico, the city’s neighborhood liaison for the North End, money brought in by the one-time charge will be spent solely on programs for the neighborhood.
A committee of community members and local elected officials will advise how the money is used, she said. The city has already brainstormed a couple of possible ideas such as a new street sweeper, among other services, D’Amico said.
The plan was met with some initial pushback from restaurant owners, including from Carla Gomes, owner of Antico Forno and Terramia.
Gomes said she believes the meals tax the city already receives from restaurants should cover the cost of neighborhood services and that the additional fee is “discriminatory.”
She pointed out restaurants are already charged $450 to $500 per each parking space they take up with tables and chairs.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” Gomes said of the new fee. “And I think it should be reconsidered because it’s a lot of money.”
Gomes understands the program first started as a temporary initiative to help restaurants recoup their losses suffered during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, she said.
But to now be charged extra to participate feels unfair, she said.
“That $7,500 is very unfair for all these restaurants that have been put through so much these last two years, when we were all considered non-essential businesses and were shut down,” Gomes said. “And I don’t agree with it.”
Philip Frattaroli, owner of Caffé Ducali and Ristorante Lucia, said participating in outdoor dining may be “cost-prohibitive now with this extra amount.”
Frattaroli, who said he was discussing the fee with other owners via text message on Thursday night, asked whether it was possible for restaurants who make charitable donations to local causes to deduct those payments from the $7,500 fee, along with the amount establishments pay in meal tax.
“Ducali is a pizzeria. Our outdoor patio is very small — $7,500 might mean that we can’t even do it,” Frattaroli said. “So as good neighbors, we give back to the community. This is something that’s benefitting the city in terms of tax revenue, so we think that there should be some sort of reduction in terms of what we’re being billed.”
Romano said he would take the suggestion under consideration.
The new fee, however, is not the only change the North End will see this year as outdoor dining starts up again.
Outdoor dining in the North End will have a shorter season than other neighborhoods.
The program will launch on May 1, instead of the April 1 start date in other areas. Romano said the program will wrap up on Sept. 5 for “bad actors,” while restaurants who comply with city regulations can have the potential to continue outside operations until Sept. 30, although that’s still well before the end for the rest of the city’s eateries in December.
And the new end date is also well before North End restaurants packed up their tables and chairs last year, on Nov. 1 — one month before the rest of the city.
Outdoor dining operating hours are also being scaled back by a half hour citywide. Restaurants are expected to close their outside areas between 9:30 and 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and between 10:30 and 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Romano said.
Additionally, this year the city has deals with two parking garages to accommodate street parking knocked out by tables and chairs in an effort to provide a “one-to-one” ratio, Romano said.
Hanover Street will also experience a new traffic flow. Beginning May 1, the lively street will become a one-way thoroughfare between the Parmenter and Richmond streets intersection and Cross Street, officials said. Traffic will only be able to exit the North End on that part of Hanover Street.
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