City Council Members Peter Koo (D) and Rafael Espinal (D-Brooklyn) yesterday joined merchants in the Asian American Federation’s Union Street Small Business Program in Flushing to rally in support of the Awnings Act – legislation that would ease the punitive burden on small businesses in response to a recent citywide blitz of violations for improper signs and awnings.

    Although the recent spate of sign violations imposed by the NYC Department of Buildings (DOC) has affected businesses throughout the city, there is stark visual evidence of its impact on Flushing’s Union Street. After receiving thousands of dollars in fines, dozens of businesses on Union Street were forced to remove their signs, turning the once vibrant commercial corridor in Flushing into a barren strip of exposed brick and cement storefronts.

    “The enforcement blitz on mom and pop stores throughout our city, particularly here in Flushing, smacks of a one-sided gotcha game played by the City of New York. The Awnings Act looks to tip the scales back into balance and give our small businesses a fair chance to comply with the law. I’d like to thank Council Member Espinal [the bill’s prime sponsor] for his leadership on this bill, and I encourage our colleagues to support this needed legislation,” said Koo.

    Flushing’s Union Street before the city began cracking down on sign awnings above and after they began cracking down on sign awnings below. Photos provided by Councilman Koo’s office.

    The bill would establish the following:

    Immediate Relief for Small Businesses

    • Implements an immediate 2-year moratorium on the DOB’s ability to issue any fines / violations relating to business signs
    • Signs that are out of compliance, regardless as to whether they have received a fine, can be left up for these 2 years
    • Complete financial relief for any business with an outstanding fine
    • Reduced permit fees for hanging new signs

    Education & Outreach

    • Various city departments must develop an education program for small businesses covering accessory signs, regulations, and how to bring non-compliant signs into compliance
    • The outreach will include information about how to apply for a zoning variance if needed, and who is qualified to do the work
    • All materials will be in the 10 most common languages spoken in the City

    Information Gathering & Investigation

    • Within 30 days of passing, DOB must provide a report
    • Taskforce will investigate predatory practices that might explain the concentration of violations in certain areas

    Strategy for Reform

    • Creation of a taskforce comprised of small business owners, chambers of commerce from each borough, union reps, licensed sign hangers and various city departments.
    • The taskforce will analyze outreach strategy to make sure all businesses are better informed about regulations and how to avoid fines before moratorium is lifted
    • Within 12 months, the taskforce must complete an evaluation of the relevance and appropriateness of current regulatory practices and evaluate sign hanging qualifications and if they should be changed.

    “From day one, this legislation has been about delivering relief to small businesses. Walk up Fulton Street in my district, or here in Flushing, and you can see first-hand the toll that this enforcement blitz has taken on our mom-and-pop shops and family-owned restaurants,” said Espinal.

    “The bill I am sponsoring will put a stop to that, and ensure we are working with small businesses, rather than unfairly penalizing them for laws that most weren’t even aware of,” he added.

    Koo along with Council Members Bob Holden (D), Justin Brannan (D-Brooklyn), Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn), Kalman Yeger (D-Brooklyn) and Mark Gjonaj (D-Bronx) co-sponsored the bill.

    The legislation is expected to go before the full city council and approved at today’s stated meeting.

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