Several Birmingham bistros initially not in compliance with aspects of the city's bistro ordinance and its special land use ordinance were found to have met the necessary terms at a public hearing at the Birmingham City Commission meeting on Monday, March 25.
The public hearing was held to consider the renewal of liquor licenses for the 2019 licensing period. At the earlier meeting on 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.
Prior to the February 25 meeting, 22 establishments were found to have issues that necessitated a public hearing. At the meeting on March 25, city manager Joe Valentine said that 21 of 22 restaurants were confirmed as having corrected their violations. Among the violations were too many seats in the bistro; signage issues; outstanding taxes; propane storage tank without a permit; garbage and fencing issues; non-permitted hour changes; and ownership changes.
Bistros and Class C liquor holders who had corrected their violations were: 220; Adachi; Bella Piatti; Bistro Joe's; Cameron's Steak House; Fleming's Steakhouse; Forest; La Strada Dolce e Caffe; Luxe Bar & Grill; Mad Hatter Bistro; Rojo; Sidecar; Salvatore Scallopini; Tallulah Wine Bar & Bistro; and Townhouse.
Commissioners approved their renewals, 5-0, with commissioners Andy Harris and Carroll DeWeese absent. Commissioner Mark Nickita recused himself from voting on 220 as he has a business relationship.
The one establishment with outstanding issues was Toast. Mayor Patty Bordman said, “Toast has been in non-compliance for a number of violations – too many seats, an ownership change, a change in hours.”
Birmingham Planning Director Jana Ecker said they were in compliance for a change in operating hours. For the change in ownership, “they've submitted a special land use permit amendment application to the planning department last week to remove dinner and to change the owners.”
Ecker said the department first received the change of hours request on February 25, and the change of ownership request on March 21. The first opportunity for the planning board to hear it is April 25.
Commissioner Rackeline Hoff asked if their only choices were to approve or not, or if commissioner could wait to approve their liquor license renewal until after the planning board made their determination. Valentine said that was not possible because recommendations to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC) must be made by March 31.
“It seems to me to be extreme to deny them renewal; however, they haven't been in compliance in quite a while,” said commissioner Stuart Sherman, noting they had removed dinner hours in October 2018, which is a condition of their special land use permit, or operating contract with the city, and had received several notices of non-compliance.
“I think we should renew the liquor license and put them on notice that we're not happy with their non-compliance with lack of dinner hours,” Sherman said. If they continue to disregard the city's laws, he said, they can pull the special land use permit. “They can't operate without a special land use permit.”
Attorney for Toast, Kelly Allen, said that primary owner, Reagan Bloom, had gone through a divorce, brought in new partners, and gone to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission in February with ownership changes.
That caught the commission off guard.
“The fact that they knew to go to MLCC and ignored the city is very disappointing,when they've come before us for changes in the special land use permit many times,” said Bordman.
Sherman noted they had always previously dealt with Thomas Bloom, Reagan's ex-husband, “and in most communities there are no special land use permits.”
Hoff spoke to Toast's general manager, Tony Minicelli. “But Mr. Minicelli, you have been in contact with our planning department for three months. It was about the hours, and if it had been done in a timely manner, we would have discovered the ownership issue.”
Bordman pointed out the notice of the special land use violations goes back to December 17. “Does that mean it was ignored?” she asked. “I don't want to shut down this restaurant, but we have a bistro ordinance that was designed to enliven the streets at night. To approve a bistro license that isn't open at night goes against the whole idea of the ordinance. It seems to be denying the opportunity for some other establishment to operate.”
“I concur with your comments. I would have great concerns with a special land use permit showing closing hours at three,” Sherman said.
Initially Allen said the owners do not intend to stay open past 3 p.m.; however, after hearing commissioner comments, she said, “If they have to stay alive, they will have dinner.”
Commissioners voted 4-0, with Nickita recusing himself as he has business interests, and Harris and DeWeese not in attendance, to approve renewal of Toast's liquor license for 2019.