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City outdoor dining ordinances reconsidered

By Kevin Elliott

Despite the seasonally cold weather, the future of Birmingham’s outdoor dining scene may be starting to warm up, as the city’s planning board on Wednesday, February 9, discussed finalizing ordinance amendments related to year-round dining outdoors.

“This is our eighth study session,” Birmingham Planning Director Nick Dupuis said “We now want to make a deep stab at the language itself.”

Dupuis said board members want to fine tune a set of ordinance amendments over the next couple of meetings, and forward the proposed language to the city commission for final approval. Dupuis on February 9 went over some of the language with board members, with additional amendments to be made.

Planning board members took up the issue of off-season outdoor dinning in June of 2021 at the direction of the Birmingham City Commission. Commissioners discussed amending the city’s zoning ordinance to allow for outdoor dining enclosures during the winter months, stemming from past COVID restrictions. Off-season outdoor dining, between January 1 and March 31, is currently permitted by the city, but outdoor enclosures are prohibited. At this meeting, the planning board was intent on keeping the prohibition on enclosures; however, various barriers, windscreens and other elements would be permitted in “outdoor dining patios.”

Under the ordinance as discussed on February 9, enclosures are defined as “an area that may or may not contain a roof or any wall; panel, or material that provides relief from weather and impedes physical and/or visual access to the space. They do not include exterior building walls, windbreaks or landscaping.”

Overall, the language favors some year-round outdoor dining, but with restrictions on patio designs, locations and operations. Outdoor operations require a license from the city, which includes a site review by staff and the planning board. Those permitted that extend into the public right-of-way, such as sidewalks, are required to store all chairs, tables, heaters, umbrellas and other outdoor elements indoors each night between January 1 and March 31. Additionally, railing fixtures – including those bolted to the ground – will need to be removed each night, under the proposal discussed.

Barriers permitted under the new proposed ordinance language include windbreaks attached to a barrier, with a combined height not to exceed 60 inches. Further, windbreaks must use clear and durable materials approved by the city. Ancillary items, such as service stations and host stands, must be located in an approved dining patio, contained and not exceed four-feet in height. Additionally, patios must maintain unobstructed sidewalk widths of at least six feet. Patios may not install permanent fixtures in the public right-of-way. Temporary fixtures are permitted with their removal each night.

“In essence, we are kind of saying ‘no’ to year-round dining,” Dupuis asked the board.

“No, I think we are saying there may be some time in there between January 1 and March 31, that if an applicant wants to have outdoor dining and they have a plan that shows how they can do it in a more temporary fashion, we would be open to it as long as it conforms with the rest of the rules,” said board chair Scott Clein. “But, everything has to come in every night, and no enclosures.”

The board ended the study session with no formal motion, but directed staff to continue to refine the language.


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