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Birmingham restaurants seek outdoor dining

By Kevin Elliott

Birmingham restaurant owners who expanded their outdoor seating in the midst of COVID-dining restrictions are lining up for permits from the city to continue the practice, following the reinstatement of more stringent regulations in July.

Birmingham Planning Director Jana Ecker said at least four applications for outdoor dining permits are scheduled to go before the city's planning board. Meanwhile, planning board members and city staff are working to update the city’s existing outdoor dining regulations in the face of added demand.

“We are accepting all applications,” Ecker said. “We have to – unless we issue a moratorium, which there is no interest in doing.”

Birmingham Planning Board members on Wednesday, July 28, had expected to consider special land use permit amendments to allow expanded outdoor dining at Adachi, 325 S. Old Woodward, and Birmingham Roast, 525 E. Brown. However, Adachi requested to have its application postponed indefinitely, as ownership reconsidered plans, citing remaining COVID concerns. Board members also postponed the matter for Birmingham Roast, citing a lack of appropriate plans to review.

Ecker said Dick O’Dows, 160 W. Maple; Commonwealth Cafe, 300 Hamilton Row; and The Morrie, 260 N. Old Woodward have also applied for expanded outdoor dining.

Although planning board members cited a lack of detailed plans for postponing the Birmingham Roast application, board members also addressed the issue of considering applications while a new policy is being developed.

“I think it’s only fair for this applicant and others that we get our act together, along with the city, and make a set of polices that can help going forward,” said board member Robin Boyle. “I’m not of a mind to make a decision on this tonight.”

Planning board chair Scott Clein said while the specific plans lacked the necessary details, he said restaurants shouldn’t have to wait until the city has updated its regulations.

“We shouldn’t be telling all of our outdoor dining establishments that they have to wait until December until we figure it out, if it’s allowed per ordinance” he said. “We do have to be reasonable there.”

Planning board member Stuart Jeffares, who voted against postponing Birmingham Roast’s application, said the proposal appeared to be minimal in scope, making him comfortable approving the matter. Board member Janelle Boyce, who also voted against postponement, recommending pushing the matter back until the ordinance is updated.

“I think we need to spend some time with our plan and what we are going to recommend citywide and have the applicant come back,” Boyce said. “I’m worried that if we approve one, we will have a flood of others that may or may not fit with what we come up with in the next couple months.”

Outdoor dining regulations are prescribed under Article 4 of the city’s zoning ordinance. Outdoor dining is permitted, subject to site plan review and a list of several conditions. Generally, conditions regulate types of furnishings that may be used, its placement and how long they may remain in place. The regulations ensure some degree of uniformity throughout the city and protect the public’s right-of-way.

While specific updates to the ordinance haven’t been determined, the city commission has said it is open to incentivizing outdoor dining in a year-round environment. The commission also indicated it would be open to some sort of enclosures, but without creating new indoor spaces.

Ecker said restaurants currently applying for outdoor dining have a set list of policies that must be followed. Those approved under the forthcoming plan will operate under new rules.

“They have to follow the existing ordinance,” Ecker said. “And if they want to go under the new ordinance, they will have to apply then. Right now, they know what they have to deal with.”


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