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  • By Lisa Brody

Planning board approves bistro rules changes

Birmingham's planning board unanimously recommended changes to the city's bistro ordinance at their meeting on Wednesday, April 11, which will now go to the city commission for final approval.

In 2007, the city created a bistro liquor ordinance with the goal of invigorating Birmingham's streets and creating increased walkability. The current ordinance permits unique restaurants to obtain a liquor license if they have no more than 65 seats, including 10 at the bar, and low key entertainment only. The bistro regulations adopted also included requirements for storefront glazing, seating along the storefront windows, and a requirement for outdoor dining. The city commission approves the concept for each bistro license to be given out, with no more than two bistro licenses approved each year.

In a memo to the board, senior planner Matt Baka wrote that the issues that have evolved over the last 10 years are “new applicants have sought creative ways to make the establishments distinctive from other restaurants and bistros in the city, and to increase the number of seats through the use of all season outdoor dining.” Several have used Eisenglass, a plastic enclosure that extends the outdoor dining area for year-round use, which increases the number of seats for the restaurant as a whole for a majority of the year. It also increases the parking demand in the downtown area, which is already taxed. The planning board determined that plastic enclosures will no longer be permitted at any establishments.

Another issue the board worked on was district requirements, suggesting that different areas of Birmingham could merit different bistro requirements. Planning director Jana Ecker said they recommended creating two types of bistros – one for the downtown area, with the same number of interior seats and number of seats at a bar, and creating another section in the ordinance for bistros in the city's Rail and Triangle districts, where parking issues are different.

“There's an opportunity to have a slightly larger bistro in that area,” with 85 seats maximum interior and 15 seats at a bar, Ecker said.

The board also recommended a maximum height at outdoor dining decks at 42-inches for railings or planters.

The issue of adapting bistro ordinance regulations first came up at the city commission/planning board workshop in June 2017.

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