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  • By Lisa Brody

Possible license violations at several city bistros

Approximately 15 Birmingham establishments will be returning to the Birmingham City Commission for a public hearing regarding the renewal of their 2019 liquor license after commissioners saw violations in their 2018 liquor license investigative summary on Monday, February 25.

Clerk J. Cherilynn Mynsberge informed commissioners the city commission is required by Chapter 10, Alcoholic Liquors, of the Birmingham Code of Ordinances to review the licenses of establishments which sell intoxicating liquor for consumption on the premises in the city and to consider the renewal of those licenses. As part of that process, investigations of each licensed establishment were conducted by the building, planning, police, fire and finance departments to determine whether the licensees were in compliance with all applicable city and state codes.

It was noted that Rojo and Sidecar, which share ownership, is in arrears by $16,325 in taxes and water bills. Mynsberge said owner Steven Simon had come in that day to make a payment on the water bill and set up a payment schedule.

“For the tax deficiency, we have finalized the bankruptcy we purchased, to see if we owe the summer 2018 taxes,” Simon said, noting he purchased the restaurants in June 2018, and there have been talks with the city and county regarding whether he or the previous owner. Owes the taxes.

“I understand you have an issue with the previous owner, but we have an issue with delinquent taxes,” said mayor Patty Bordman.

“I understand there is a concern that you have an issue with the seller, but we have an issue with delinquent taxes, and if we set a public hearing date for March 25, there will be a resolution,” said commissioner Andy Harris.

Commissioner Carroll DeWeese stated he had concerns regarding Toast violating its special land use permit (SLUP) because “they're not operating in the evenings which is part of the SLUP.”

Planning director Jana Ecker said that after repeated follow ups, they had requested a SLUP amendment that day to not offer dinner every day, but that the soonest the planning board could hear them would be the end of April.

Tony Minicilli, director of operations for Toast, said they had changed their hours in October, but were not aware that evening hours were tied to their SLUP. Further, he said, there had been a change of ownership, with original owners Thom and Regan Bloom having divorced, and Regan now owning it with investors.

Commissioners noted that was another violation of the SLUP agreement, which requires any change in ownership to come before the planning board and city commission, and set the public hearing for March 25.

Commissioner Rackeline Hoff pointed out that a number of bistros have discrepancies with more than the permitted amount of seats in their bistros.

By ordinance, bistros can have no more than 65 seats, with no more than 10 of those at a bar.

They made the example first of Bella Piatti, which was approved for 52 seats plus 10 at the bar. Ecker said when they were examined, they had 63 seats plus 11 at the bar, for 74 seats.

“These liquor licenses are valuable to you and the city,” Bordman said. “They are one of the drivers of activity to the city. We view them just not so you can make money but so you can follow the rules of our city. To find out that at least eight restaurants have violated their SLUPs – so we're going to have you come before us for a public hearing on March 25 in order to get a renewal of your liquor license.”

As for non-compliance in terms of seats, as of the city's last inspection, in addition to Bella Piatti were La Strada Caffe, Bistro Joe's, Luxe, Salvatore Scallopini, Forest, Tallulah's, Mad Hatter Bistro. The Townhouse was cited for having too few seats.

Also needing to come back before the commission on March 25 for other violations are Adachi, for two A-frame signs with no permits; Fleming's, for sidewalk signs without permits; and 220 for a propane storage tank without a permit.

“Most of us go to your restaurants and enjoy eating at them. By following the rules, it makes the atmosphere that much better,” Bordman said.

“It may seem trivial to be concerned with three or five chairs, but having been involved with the development of the bistro license ordinance, it wouldn't exist if we didn't have a controlled and defined opportunity that was different than the Class C liquor license holder,” said commissioner Mark Nickita. “It's about keeping all of the relationships with the license holders, much less it's a legal license between the city and the (state liquor) licensing commission. It's about adhering to the agreement. All we ask is that everyone comply.”

Commissioners approved the renewal for 2019, of all other Class B, Class C and microbrewery licenses, 6-0, with commissioner Stuart Sherman absent.

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