A large group of North End restaurateurs are suing the City of Boston in federal court, the latest development in a years-long standoff between the Wu administration and businesses over outdoor dining.
The suit, filed Thursday and brought by the North End Chamber of Commerce and 21 restaurants, says that Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration has discriminated against the neighborhood in part due to their Italian descent and are demanding a jury trial.
The city says the issue has already been “dismissed.”
“The charges in this lawsuit are once again without merit as this group attempts to relitigate a past issue that was dismissed,” a city spokesperson told Boston.com. “The City has full jurisdiction over public streets and will continue to make decisions that work for our residents and support their quality of life.”
The restaurant, including Antico Forno, Monica’s, and Trattoria Il Panino, claim the city disadvantaged their neighborhood’s restaurants in the years since the start of the pandemic. The North End is the city’s oldest neighborhood and has the densest restaurant presence per capita in the state.
In 2022, the city proposed a $7,500 fee for North End restaurants looking to provide outdoor dining, which the lawsuit says “singled out” restaurants in the neighborhood. Restaurants in other neighborhoods didn’t have to pay the same fine and could operate over a longer outdoor season, the suit pointed out.
The North End restaurants sued in March 2023 over the fee.
In 2023, they were barred from on-street outdoor dining service completely, but the city said some restaurants with “adequate” sidewalk lengths could apply. Boston said increased traffic, sanitation issues, and accessibility were factors in the ban.
“This unfortunate dispute arises out of the City’s current administration’s misguided and ill-founded decisions to mistreat and discriminate against the North End’s Italian restaurants — knowing it would inflict financial hardship on them — just as they were beginning to recover from the crisis caused by the pandemic,” the suit says. “During the pandemic, the City’s outdoor dining program was essential to the very existence of restaurants citywide.”
The North End/Waterfront Residents Association was named in the suit as well. The suit claims city officials attended their meeting about outdoor dining, which misrepresented the neighborhood’s opinions. They called the association “a private, partisan advocacy group with a known anti-outdoor dining agenda.”
The suit details the outdoor dining disputes of 2022 and 2023 and how each neighborhood had its fair share of outdoor dining criticism from residents.
As of January, the city is moving ahead with their Outdoor Dining Program for the 2024 season. The application for businesses is coming soon.
“We actively seek opportunities to support outdoor dining wherever compatible with accessibility and residential quality of life, and we have been working with residents and restaurant owners through the North End Outdoor Dining Task Force to explore longer-term options in the neighborhood,” the city spokesperson said.
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