City regulations for parking, dining eased
By Kevin Elliott
Waived permit parking fees and extended off-season, outdoor dining standards for Birmingham restaurants were extended on Monday, March 8, by city commissioners in an effort to offer relief to local businesses.
In April 2020, Birmingham city commissioners agreed to several measures to provide financial relief to businesses in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those measures included waiving fees for temporary signage permits; free on-street parking and in parking structures; waived liquor license renewal fees; waived fees for pet licenses and other measures.
The commission in January extended most of the April provisions, with the exception of on-street parking, which is no longer free. They continued to waive fees for monthly permit parking holders and fees for public parking structures, as well as a continuation of off-season outdoor dining standards. Those standards allow for igloos, tents and other items to facilitate outdoor dining and restaurants limited to now 50 percent capacity indoors.
With the three measures set to expire at the end of March, city commissioners voted 5-2 to extend the measures until July 31. Commissioners Clinton Baller and Brad Host voted against the measures.
Baller said he supported extending dining standards, but not passing up parking revenue.
“We are talking about forgoing, more or less, another million dollars in revenue,” Baller said. “We are also making zero progress on the long-term problem of parking permits and the waiting list on the permits.
“The way I see vaccinations progressing and opening up coming, I think we are going to be wide open by July 1, and it’s just not necessary to forgo that revenue and to put off dealing with the problem of permits.”
Many offices in Birmingham and elsewhere remain vacant in the face of a state executive order that requires businesses to allow employees to work remotely if a job can be performed virtually, so parking structures are only being used to about 35 percent of capacity.
Commissioner Rackeline Hoff questioned whether the outdoor dining standards should be extended to July 1, rather than July 31, in order to discourage plastic enclosures during summer months.
John Henke, a Birmingham attorney who represents several restaurants in the city, said the measures should be extended into 2022.
“With all due respect to commissioner Baller, I don’t think that on July 1 the entire state of Michigan is going to be re-opened, and suddenly we are going to be back to a pre-COVID situation across the board,” Henke said.
Henke also said a number of other nearby communities have already extended social districts and COVID dining provisions into 2022.
“I believe it’s a bit short-sighted to cut this off at June 30, because the science and data don’t suggest that these restaurants will have recovered by July 1 from what has happened in the last year and a month,” he said. “We need to protect those restaurants, and to do so means extending this further than the current proposal. You need to extend this into fall or into 2022 to have them recover what they lost last year.
“To try and get these restaurants to now go through a complete permitting process, again – which means not only planning, fire department, police and engineering – and then deal with the liquor control commission for resizing puts a tremendous burden on these restaurants.”