Some restaurant owners in Boston’s North End announced Friday that they are taking legal action over high fees that Mayor Michelle Wu introduced this year exclusively for al fresco dining in that part of the city.
According to the City of Boston, restaurants in the North End must pay a $7,500 fee to participate in this year’s outdoor dining program. Additionally, restaurants will be charged $458 per month for each parking space used in their outdoor dining areas.
Small businesses and restaurants in the city can apply for a temporary, seasonal outdoor dining license, a program started during the pandemic. The fee is specific to the North End, known for its restaurants and eateries, but also for its narrow streets and limited parking.
North End restaurants are taking legal action against Boston over Mayor Michelle Wu’s decision to only charge a hefty fee to businesses in that neighborhood.
A group of owners, led by Monica’s Trattoria property, came together on Friday to announce they would take legal action, beginning with a letter to Wu, then the filing of a restraining order. They said it would do so before the deadline to pay the fee.
“We’re going to fight them until we win, and we’re going to fight them at every level that we can,” said Monica’s Trattoria co-owner George Mendoza.
Wu was quick to respond, sending business owners a letter saying she was prepared to cancel al fresco dining in the North End altogether if they didn’t think the fee was practical.
Earlier Friday, Wu defended the fee, saying it will help with things like street cleaning and alternative parking.
“We’ve worked hard to develop a program to enable our residents to live and to support and help our businesses,” she said before the lawsuit was announced.
But business owners in the North End have described the policy as “discriminatory”.
“She’s 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 landlord, said she sees both sides of the issue.
People who own restaurants in Boston’s North End say they will consider legal action over a policy that requires them to pay a fee to set up tables outside on city lands.
“It’s a very difficult decision to make,” she said, pointing out that she was slapped by her tenants over concerns about al fresco dining.
“They want to come home, they want to sleep, and it’s noisy,” she said.
But despite these complaints, it’s hard to find anyone in the North End who would agree that restaurants in their neighborhoods should charge 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 help address problems al fresco dining could bring to the area. Other notable differences for the neighborhood include a later start date for the program.
The start date for restaurants in the North End is May 1st, a month after other Boston neighborhoods. The program ends for the North End on September 5 but could be extended to September 30 depending on compliance, city officials said. In other parts of the city, the program will run until sometime in December.
Other North End restaurant owners have expressed frustration at the unique circumstances they are facing.
Khaled Moheydeen, owner of Parla, says the fees would eat away at a large part of his profits at a time when the restaurant industry is already suffering.
“People feel left out and that’s not fair,” Moheydeen said. “The cost of labor, the cost of food, everything is so much more money.”
The return of alfresco dining in Boston’s North End comes a month later than the rest of the city, and business owners have been told they now have to pay $7,500.
“The reason it’s frustrating for us in the North End is that we’re treated differently and I don’t care who you are but there should be a level playing field for everyone and so far this isn’t a level playing field we are worried,” Damien DiPaola, owner of Carmelinas, said last week.
Since an average patio takes up two seats, DiPaola estimates it costs an additional $1,000 a month on top of the $7,500. That cost, he said, some small restaurants just can’t afford.
“They just listened to a group of residents who complained about everything and here we are now and we think that’s discriminatory, we feel it’s targeting the North End,” he said.
But Wu said there are reasons the North End needs to be handled differently.
The return of al fresco dining in Boston is just around the corner, but North End restaurants just learned they’ll have to wait longer and pay a fee.
“The impact of al fresco dining on this neighborhood is unique because of this density,” she said. “We want to make sure everyone has the resources to have a safe, hygienic and clean experience and that it really addresses all the needs that we see.”
Money raised from the fees goes towards rodent and traffic control and additional street cleaning.
Asked about the outcry, Wu showed no sign of retreating.
“If our residents and neighbors and restaurants are all packed up, we need a different solution for this neighborhood,” she said.