BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – The ongoing battle over outdoor dining in Boston’s North End has taken a legal turn as 21 restaurant owners and the North End Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit against the city in federal court this week. According to the lawsuit, the restaurateurs argue that they have faced “unequal, unfair, and discriminatory treatment” from city officials during the past two outdoor dining seasons.
The controversy began in 2022 when the city imposed a $7,500 fee on restaurants for operating outdoor dining. The following year, the city completely banned outdoor dining in the North End, making it the only neighborhood in Boston facing such restrictions. The restaurateurs now seek compensation for the financial losses they incurred due to these fees and bans, claiming that the city’s actions were “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law.”
City officials, including Mayor Michelle Wu, have justified the fees and bans as measures to address quality of life concerns for residents, such as increased noise, trash, traffic, and parking issues. Last year, the ban was further motivated by the nearly summer-long closure of the Sumner Tunnel and ongoing construction on the North Washington Street bridge project.
The restaurant owners argue that the fees were an “unlawful tax” and that the city failed to fulfill its promise of addressing the specific impacts of the outdoor dining program. They also claim that the city favored the North End/Waterfront Residents Association, a politically influential community organization that openly opposed the North End restaurants and pushed for the ban.
In response to the lawsuit, a city spokesperson stated that the charges were without merit and reiterated the city’s authority over public streets. However, the restaurant owners believe that the city’s actions have tarnished its image and sense of community, particularly by discriminating against Italian American citizens who own and operate most of the North End restaurants.
The lawsuit demands a preliminary and permanent injunction requiring the city to process and accept outdoor dining applications in the same manner as other parts of Boston. Meanwhile, the city maintains that it is actively exploring options to support outdoor dining while considering accessibility and residential quality of life.
This legal battle marks another chapter in the ongoing conflict between the North End restaurant owners and the city. As the lawsuit unfolds, the outcome will have significant implications for outdoor dining regulations and the relationship between businesses and local government in Boston.
In summary, Boston’s North End restaurant owners have filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming unequal treatment and discrimination regarding outdoor dining regulations. The lawsuit seeks compensation for financial losses and aims to challenge the city’s actions as arbitrary and contrary to the law. As the legal battle continues, the outcome will have important consequences for the North End community and beyond.