Over the 10 years Birmingham has had a bistro ordinance, which has allowed small, eclectic restaurants to obtain liquor licenses, the city has seen creative and inventive interpretations of bistros which has caused city leaders to begin to examine the ordinance as well as the city's boundaries for its economic development liquor license.
At the Birmingham Planning Board meeting on Wednesday, August 12, a study session was held to begin discussions on what is working – and what isn't – with each liquor license. They concluded the meeting with no decisions, but with some guidance for the next time they deal with the topic and draft amendments to the ordinances.
In 2007, the Birmingham City Commission created the city's bistro ordinance to permit small and unique restaurants in certain areas of the city that required special land use permits. The city's bistro ordinance requires that an establishment have no more than 65 seats, 10 of which are at a bar; alcohol can only be served to seated patrons, except those standing in a defined bar area; bistros must have tables located in the storefront space lining any street or pedestrian passage; a minimum of 70 percent glazing must be provided in windows along buildings facing a street; outdoor dining must be provided, weather permitted, along an adjacent street or passage during the months of May through October each year. If there's no room on the sidewalk, an enclosed platform must be erected on the street adjacent to the bistro to create an outdoor dining area.
Over the last 10 years, some evolutions of the bistro ordinance have pleased planners and city officials – and others have bothered them. At the meeting, planning board members discussed that they do not want bistros to be permitted to enclose their outdoor spaces, as many have, with Eisenglass, a plastic enclosure, which increases the number of seats in the bistro year around because it extends the outdoor season too much, and several planning board members said they don't like the look of it.
Board members, however, do like the idea of having roof top dining in nice weather, where applicable.
Several bistros have had the opportunity to have a lot of outdoor dining seats in spring and summer months. Board members discussed the possibility of limiting the number of outdoor seats, and decided they do not want to limit the number of outdoor dining spots, nor do they feel parking requirements for bistros with a large outdoor dining number should have to be altered to accommodate that increased need....continued on page 2