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Boston wants to bring outdoor dining back to the North End. The neighbors aren’t happy about it.

Outdoor dining on Hanover Street in Boston's North End in 2021.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/file

North End residents are pushing back on an outdoor dining plan that includes turning a stretch of Hanover Street into a one-way thoroughfare for five months, the latest neighborhood skirmish over efforts to help restaurateurs hit hard by the pandemic.

Under the city’s proposal — detailed at a two-hour-plus neighborhood meeting on Thursday night that had more than 140 participants via Zoom — Hanover Street, which cuts through the heart of the North End, would be limited to one direction from Richmond Street to Cross Street. The change would be in effect from early April to early September.

John Romano, the city’s deputy director of neighborhood services who moderated the meeting, said making that one block of Hanover Street one-way would help alleviate some of the congestion and commercial loading problems seen during the past two outdoor dining seasons, when Hanover Street remained two-way. The change would allow commercial vehicles to pull over to one side of the street while allowing access for emergency vehicles, he said.

First introduced to the neighborhood in 2020, just months into the global pandemic, outdoor dining continues to be divisive in this unique and small corner of Boston, known for its European feel, annual Italian feasts, and, of course, its scores of restaurants.


For restaurateurs, outdoor dining has been a helpful lifeline amid a crushing public health emergency. For some residents, it’s a nightmare that brings a host of quality-of-life concerns.

The controversy continued at Thursday’s meeting, with residents voicing opposition to another summertime of outdoor dining. Neighbors aired a laundry list of grievances they’ve amassed over two previous seasons, including late-night noise, public drunkenness, trash, traffic, and hard-to-navigate sidewalks.

And there was parking talk. A lot of it. Parking is already at a premium in the tightly packed neighborhood that is home to 8,700 people. Outdoor dining, by its very nature, cuts into parking spots.


To assuage those concerns, the city is proposing that participating restaurants fund replacement parking spaces for residents in area parking garages. Those spaces would match the street spaces lost to outdoor dining on a 1-for-1 basis, according to city officials, who also said that contracts with local garages are being finalized.

But the parking plan brought its own onslaught of questions. Will the garages have a police presence to ensure those spaces are safe, specifically for women? Doesn’t the parking plan still complicate everyday activities like grocery shopping? One skeptic in the Zoom chat wanted to know how the parking garage spots reserved for North End residents will be monitored, adding that she had no faith that the garages would not rent them out to others.

Frustration over outdoor dining was a theme returned to, again and again. For the critics, the North End was simply not designed for outdoor dining, and the headaches it brings far outweigh the benefits.

North End resident Shauna DeMarco said many North End restaurateurs do not live in the neighborhood.

“They go home to a driveway and a house and they leave all of this,” she said. “We have to deal with the trash, people urinating.”

She said she was tired of hearing that the restaurant owners “are the only people that lost during this pandemic.”

“I’m really disgusted to say that I live around here,” she said. “It’s dirty, no one cares anymore. It’s disgusting.”


Mary McGee, who has lived in the North End for 48 years, said she is visually impaired and had difficulty navigating the sidewalks of her neighborhood with outdoor dining, with servers constantly ducking in and out of restaurants with trays and plates. Hanover Street has banks, a pharmacy, a post office, churches.

“During the outdoor dining, it is almost impossible for me to walk on the sidewalk on Hanover Street to access any of these places,” she said.

Said Thomas Schiavoni, “We are losing public space and we’re conferring a benefit on the restaurant industry only.”

One resident made a direct plea to Mayor Michelle Wu, who was on the Zoom call, to shut down the outdoor dining program in the North End. Another, writing in the Zoom chat, suggested citizens use a measuring tape to make sure restaurants were adhering to their allotted outdoor space.

The conversation, at times, got hyperlocal. Specific corners, patches of sidewalk, and restaurants were discussed. Types of barriers for the outdoor dining spaces were also broached.

The reaction was not all negative.

Hanover Street resident John McGaffigan said he thought the city had learned from its mistakes regarding the outdoor dining program, adding that there “seems like there’s a lot of improvements.” He applauded the idea of making a stretch of Hanover one-way, saying he thought that could help alleviate some of the traffic problems that the outdoor dining program triggered last year.


Restaurateur Carla Gomes asked if restaurants could receive government COVID-19 relief money to offset the costs of new outdoor barriers and fees for the parking plan. She also wanted assurances that the restaurant fees tethered to outdoor dining would be reinvested back into the North End.

Gomes estimated that she had spent “well over $100,000″ on outdoor seating during the past two years and noted that many restaurants had lost “a lot of money” because of the virus and were now “just trying to make it.” She acknowledged that outdoor dining in the neighborhood had been “a work in progress for everyone.”

“Give us this opportunity this year to make it right,” she said.

Last year, about 180 parking spaces in the North End were affected by outdoor dining, but that number will drop this year to 130 spaces, according to a city presentation made at the meeting.

The city will be stepping up enforcement of outdoor dining rules, and North End restaurants will be charged a fee to address neighborhood impacts of the program, according to the city’s plan.

There are some differences between the outdoor dining plan for the North End versus the rest of the city. For instance, while the rest of Boston will have outdoor dining from April 1 into the winter, the North End will have it from April 8 to Labor Day.

Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.