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  • By Lisa Brody

Liquor law changed, restaurant changes passed

After two Birmingham restaurants, The Bird and The Bread and 220, had come before city commissioners for special land use permit amendments and final site plan approvals in December but found the existing liquor license ordinance too restrictive, the city attorney returned on Monday, January 8, with an ordinance change giving police more latitude in citing violations, which was unanimously approved, and then both dining establishments received unanimous approval for their special land use permit amendments and final site plans.

At the December 11 Birmingham City Commission meeting, The Bird and The Bread, 210 S. Old Woodward, came before the commission to request a name and concept change, to Vinotecca, which would be a wine bar serving sophisticated European foods, in the form of small plates and tapas, similar to the owner’s restaurant in Ann Arbor, Vinology, and their former establishment Vinotecca in Royal Oak. The Elm Room, a banquet facility in the rear, would remain the same. Owner Kristen Jonna also said she would like to offer low-key entertainment, in the form of blues and jazz, with DJs and trios, on some nights, as well as having entertainment in the private banquet room.

The ordinance had been changed several years ago after a couple of Birmingham establishments with music experienced violent criminal activity.

On January 8, city attorney Tim Currier said that from previous experience with prior liquor license holders, “We felt that having DJ only was probably lacking in trying to address the problems they’d had occasionally. We do have a very good number of operators in the city. The real issue is being able to act swiftly if an issue arises. We tried to address it where the city manager could rescind, in whole or part, a special land use permit (SLUP) if one of these operators violate it in or around these establishments. It could be based on a recommendation by the police chief or his designee, such as officers on the ground who would be witnessing this, coupled with immediately scheduling a public hearing at the next city commission meeting to see if action is needed to rescind the license or some other alternative by the city commission, in accordance with the code.

“The reason we took this broader stroke,” Currier continued, “is to be in control a multitude of issues that may arise – not just DJs. We tried to provide a much broader net to give the commission much broader control to react. It would apply to ever liquor license in the city.”

“This is good policy,” said mayor Andy Harris. “The intent is to get the commission to address it as soon as possible.”

Commissioners voted 7-0 to approve the ordinance change. They then voted 7-0 to approve the name, design and menu change of The Bird and The Bread to Vinotecca, and in accordance with the new ordinance to not limit types of entertainment, but to limit behavior.

The voted 5-0, with commissioners Mark Nickita and Stuart Sherman recusing themselves, to permit 220 Restaurant, at 220 E. Merrill, to add a lower level as an extension to their restaurant, in the former location of Edison, with food and beverage service with the same menu as the main restaurant, entertainment, and a separate entrance.

At the December meeting, planning director Jana Ecker had presented an updated plan, pointing out, “Sometimes it will be open to the public, and sometimes it will be open for private events,” noting the main space has 170 seats, the lower level would offer 86 seats, although primarily lounge-style, with couches and just three tables. Access to the lower level would be through a separate side door entrance.

Owner Zaid Elia said he would be bringing back what had existed previously, only better, with full food service.

He said entertainment, whether with a DJ or live entertainment, was crucial to compete with downtown Detroit establishments, Royal Oak, Ferndale, Rochester and other destination restaurants.

“If there are ongoing issues, the police department can suspend their SLUP and they can have a public hearing before the city commission,” Ecker said of the new ordinance, before commissioners approved the changes to 220.

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