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Birmingham sets hearing on outdoor dining rules

By Kevin Elliott

Long awaited changes to Birmingham’s outdoor dining ordinance intended to allow for expanded dining throughout the year will be the subject of a public hearing Wednesday, April 13, with the city’s planning board.

Planning board members on Wednesday, March 9, unanimously approved setting the public hearing for the proposed ordinance amendments. Wednesday’s meeting also marked the ninth study session held by the board to craft the proposed amendments. The process grew from a December 2020 discussion with the city commission, and the planning board was asked to consider whether outdoor dining enclosures should be permitted during winter months, and what regulations should be recommended if such enclosures are permitted.

The city commission formally asked the board in June 2021 to discuss outdoor dining and get clear direction as to what elements of outdoor dining should be addressed. The discussion included the use of public/private property, dining enclosures and a desire for a comprehensive look at the entire outdoor dining ordinance.

Under the proposed amendments, outdoor dining patios would be permitted to extend in front of neighboring properties with the written permission of the property owner affected, and with planning board approval. All dining elements, such as railings, planters, tables, chairs, heaters and umbrellas, must be stored indoors each night between January 1 and March 31 to allow for snow and ice removal.

The proposed amendments would allow for windbreaks within outdoor dining patios with an affixed barrier. Windbreaks would need to be constructed of clear, rigid and durable materials, with Eisenglass and vinyl prohibited. Patios wouldn’t be permitted to contain enclosures. An enclosure includes a wall, panel or other material that extends more than 60 inches high and provides extended relief from weather, and impedes physical and/or visual access to the space.

Planning board member Stuart Jeffares disagreed that heavy planters should be included in elements brought in each night. Large city planters, he said, are decorated throughout the year and add to the character of an area.

Board chair Scott Clein disagreed, saying a row of empty planters on the ground around an empty dining patio is more of an unsightly barrier on the sidewalk.

The board did agree that adjacent sidewalk patios and street dining platforms must have a minimum space between them to maintain an appropriate, passable sidewalk.

The board will hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance language at its April 13 meeting.


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