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  • By Lisa Brody

Restaurants allowed to serve outdoors all winter

In a move to assist Birmingham restaurants during a trying economic time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Birmingham City Commissioners, at their meeting on Monday, August 24, unanimously approved a resolution that will allow them to continue offering outdoor dining throughout the winter, as well as allowing them to provide temporary enclosures against the weather. Birmingham City Manager Joe Valentine explained, “We previously put before you a set a of initiatives to help our business community. Now we're doing some for the winter months. We're looking ahead because they'll expire in October. We understand we have to accommodate our business in downtown, considering the unique challenges they face.” On June 8, the city commission approved a resolution to permit expanding outdoor dining by the amount of seats a restaurant was losing in their interior, and they could expand beyond their storefront space. That resolution is set to expire October 31. The new resolution will be in effect from October 1 through April 1, 2021. Planning director Jana Ecker said this would allow for restaurants to continue outdoor dining “into the winter season, with some enclosures. So they wouldn't have to bring things in each night, and they can continue as they have been.” Restaurants would need to apply to the city for a permit, although all fees are waived, she said. A restaurant is only qualified if they already have outdoor dining during the summer season. “They could have some enclosure system, and can have heaters put in place to give them space to make customers comfortable, as long as safety provisions are met,” Ecker said. “It would still be reviewed and vetted by the building and planning departments, and have to meet the fire code.” This outdoor dining allowance would only be for this winter season, and is temporary. “We've approved this before, we're extending this, to help restaurants survive in our city,” noted mayor Pierre Boutros. “It appears because of COVID we're expanding what it means to be a bistro,” said commissioner Clinton Baller. “We're adding outdoor seats to bistros, but Class C establishments can add seats as well,” Ecker said. “Do we have any restrictions to what can be used in these enclosures?” asked commissioner Rackeline Hoff. “No, as long as they meet safety and code requirements,” Ecker said. She added that if COVID-related restrictions are lifted before April 1, it is very easy for commissioners to change these accommodations.

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