Canape' Cart, a full-service catering company that had been operating out of a church kitchen in Ferndale, was approved by the Birmingham City Commission on Monday, April 23, for a special land use amendment and final site plan to use the kitchen at the First Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.
The First Presbyterian Church, located at 1669 W. Maple, on the south side of the street between Larchlea and Pleasant, was seeking approval from the city commission to be able to lease their existing kitchen in their basement to Canape' Cart to cook and prepare food for catering, including catering operations at the church. Canape' Cart, operated since 1987 by Kathleen O'Neill and Mary Rembelski, was looking to relocate to Birmingham after the church they have used for 30 years in Ferndale, Drayton Avenue Presbyterian Church, announced it was closing .
“We are a full-service catering company designed to make you shine at your event,” they state on their website. In addition to offering events at the church or in people's homes, they have catered at Cranbrook Educational Community, Michigan Opera Theater, The Guardian Building, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, DSO Max Theater, and many other locations.
James Goss, treasurer and businessman for the church, told commissioners, “We're here to serve the community. We just saw an opportunity to help these two entrepreneurs who are long-time business owners in Ferndale, for our kitchen, which is underutilized. The money does not stay with the church – it goes right back to the community. The kitchen for a modern-day church is really overbuilt, and with the rent, we could really help the community.”
“I see this as a more commercial venture,” countered commissioner Rackeline Hoff. “I don't see any problem Canape' Cart providing food for you. I have an issue with Canape' Cart providing food with Michigan Opera Theater, Cranbrook, many other entities. That's a business. I am not seeing it as appropriate to have a commercial business out of a church.”
“I disagree,” said commissioner Stuart Sherman. “I have seen similar at numerous synagogues. It's very normal in the religious arena. I have absolutely no issue with this. I would agree with the city attorney's interpretation that it's very normal in the non-profit religious world.”
“I want to echo commissioner Hoff's concerns. I feel it is our job to enforce the city's zoning codes. I saw the planning board recommend a variance. I'm not inclined to support the motion.”
“I think many of the planning board members wanted clarity of the city attorney if this was allowed, and it is,” said commissioner Mark Nickita. “There is also concern if we are setting precedent. Many churches have day cares and preschools, which are businesses. I think this is a very light use, and it falls in line with many other uses at churches.”
Commissioners approved the special land use permit for Canape Cart and their final site plan by a vote of 5-2, with Hoff and Harris voting against.