North End

North End Restaurant Owners Announce Legal Action Over City's Outdoor Dining Fee

Restaurant owners in the North End will have to pay a $7,500 fee to participate in outdoor dining under a restricted timeframe

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Some restaurant owners in Boston's North End announced Friday that they are pursuing legal action against hefty fees that Mayor Michelle Wu has implemented for outdoor dining exclusively in that section of the city this year.

North End restaurants will have to pay a $7,500 fee to participate in this year's outdoor dining program, according to the City of Boston. In addition, restaurants will be charged $458 a month for each parking spot used in their outdoor dining areas.

Small businesses and restaurants in the city are able to apply for a temporary, seasonal license for outdoor dining, a program that started during the pandemic. The fee is specific to the North End, which is known for its restaurants and eateries, but also for its tight streets and limited parking options.

Restaurants in the North End are taking legal action against Boston over Mayor Michelle Wu's decision to charge a hefty fee to businesses in that neighborhood only.

A group of owners, led by Monica's Trattoria ownership, came together Friday to announce they would be pursuing legal action, which starts with a letter to Wu, then the filing of an injunction. They said this will be done before the deadline to pay the fee.

"We’re gonna fight them 'til we win and were gonna fight them at every level we can," Monica's Trattoria co-owner George Mendoza said.

Wu was quick to respond, sending a letter to the business owners saying that if they don't think the fee is workable, she's prepared to cancel outdoor dining in the North End altogether.

Earlier Friday, Wu defended the fee, saying it will help with things like street cleaning and alternate parking.

"We worked hard to come up with a program to make life possible for our residents as well as supporting our businesses and helping them," she said before the lawsuit was announced.

But business owners in the North End have called the policy "discriminatory."

"She's coming after us, and we're going to fight back," Mendoza said of Wu in a previous interview.

Claudia Spagnuolo, who is a restaurant owner and a landlord, said she sees both sides of the problem.

People who own restaurants in Boston's North End say they will consider legal action over a policy requiring them to pay a fee if they want to put tables outside on city property.

"It’s a very hard decision to make," she said, pointing out that she's had an earful from her tenants about outdoor dining concerns.

"They want to come home they want to sleep and it's noisy," she said.

But despite those complaints, it's hard to find anyone in the North End who agrees the restaurants in their neighborhood should be charged while other parts of the city don't pay at all.

City officials said the fee will be used to pay for mitigation programs and services to manage the problems outdoor dining may bring to the area. Other notable differences for the neighborhood include a later start date for the program.

The start date for North End restaurants will be May 1, a month after other Boston neighborhoods. The program will end for the North End on Sept. 5 but could be extended until Sept. 30 depending on compliance, city officials said. Other parts of the city will see the program run until sometime in December.

Other North End restaurant owners have expressed frustration with the special circumstances they're facing.

Khaled Moheydeen owner of Parla, says the fees would take a huge bite out of his profits at a time when the restaurant industry is already hurting.

"People feel singled out, and this is not fair," said Moheydeen. "The labor costs, the food prices cost, everything is so much more money."

The return of outdoor dining in Boston's North End comes a month later than in the rest of the city, and business owners have learned they will now have to pay $7,500.

"The reason it’s frustrating to us in the North End is that we are being treated differently and I don’t care who you are but there should be a level fair playing field for everyone and this is not a level fair playing field as far as we’re concerned," Damien DiPaola, owner of Carmelinas said last week.

With an average patio taking up two spots, DiPaola estimates that it costs another $1,000 a month on top of the $7,500 fee. These costs, he said, are ones some small restaurants just can't afford.

“They listened solely to a bunch of residents that complained about everything and here we are right now and we do feel this is discriminatory we do feel that it’s targeting the North End," he said.

But Wu said there are reasons the North End has to be handled differently.

The return of outdoor dining in Boston is just around the corner, but restaurants in the North End have just learned they will have to wait longer and pay a fee.

"The impacts of outdoor dinning, on this neighborhood, are unique because of that density," she said. "We want to make sure that everyone has the resources available for a safe, sanitary, clean experience, and one that really addresses all the needs that we see."

The money collected from the fees will go toward rodent and traffic control and additional street cleaning.

Asked about the outcry, Wu showed no signs of backing down.

"When our residents and neighbors and restaurants are all packed together, we need a different solution for this neighborhood," she said.

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