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Outdoor dining ordinance heads to commission

By Grace Lovins

Following 13 study sessions and multiple joint workshops across a two-year span, a final draft of Birmingham’s new outdoor dining ordinance is headed to the city commission for approval following the second public hearing on Wednesday, December 14, with the city planning board.

The ordinance draft has been a work in progress since 2020, given the increase in demand for outdoor dining platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic. In December of 2020, the planning board was directed by the city commission to look at establishing a set of regulations for enclosed outdoor dining areas, which quickly branched into a comprehensive look at the entirety of outdoor dining rules and regulations.

After a long, laborious process, planning board members said they feel they have done a great job in creating a new ordinance that best serves the city and want to move it forward to the city commission to finally review.

“We’ve put in a great deal of effort on this,” chairperson Scott Clein said. “I think we have, while maybe not a perfect ordinance, a very good one that I think is going to allow us to move forward and I would really suggest strongly that we would want to push this forward to the city commission here tonight.”

The planning board’s final few study sessions focused primarily on the sunset provision which would require all nonconforming outdoor dining areas to eventually come into compliance after a fixed date. At the board’s last meeting on Wednesday, November 9, board members agreed that the sunset provision should be removed from the ordinance altogether.

Board member Daniel Share, who voted against approval of the ordinance in November, noted that he would again vote against approval of the ordinance draft because of the removal of the sunset clause. He noted that the absence of a sunset date meant businesses with certain components that the city doesn’t like, such as isinglass, will be nonconforming for an unknown length of time, leaving the city with a feature they worked to eliminate.

“There are two, I think, really important things in this new ordinance that we want to make sure we get as soon as possible, that will be put off potentially for a long time if we don’t have a sunset. That is preserving the five-foot clear path – our clause says you can’t put tables and chairs in both the private space and the public space – and the second is some limitations on the height of any cover,” Share said.

“I think that we are making a mistake for the city if we don’t have a sunset because we’re going to have an indefinite period of time that those undesirable conditions will stay,” Share noted. “We’ll have no idea how long it will be.”

Planning board members voted 6-1 to recommend approval of the ordinance draft to the city commission. Share voted against the motion citing his objection to the removal of the sunset clause.


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