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Planning board holds off on new bistro

By Kevin Elliott

Birmingham Planning Board members on Wednesday, February 24, delayed taking action on a site plan and special land use request for the Vinewood Bistro, proposed at 720 N. Old Woodward along the Rouge River.

Vinewood Kitchen and Cocktails was selected in October by the city commission as one of five bistro applications to move forward to contend for one of the two bistro licenses approved for 2021. During the selection process, Vinewood Kitchen and Cocktails was described as a modern causal American restaurant with a “modern meets rustic” interior ambiance. 

The proposal presented is unique in that it proposes an outdoor dining area in the rear of the building that would allow for views of the river. Due to the existing grade on site, the lower level of the building is visible above grade at the rear of the building. It’s there where an outdoor dining patio, or a winter garden, would be constructed, if approved.

Designed by Birmingham architecture firm Ron & Roman, the winter garden would include a 38-seat outdoor patio and a 26-seat semi-outdoor winter garden, for a total of 64 seats. 

City planner Nicholas Dupuis said while the winter garden is technically located outdoors, it doesn’t appear to meet the conditions entirely, in that the 26-seat area would be almost entirely enclosed.

“Although the space is indeed open to the air, it would likely not be as harshly effected by some of the more tolerable months during the outdoor dining season,” Dupuis said. “Furthermore, enforcement of the permitted outdoor dining season (April-October) would be difficult due to the patio and winter garden’s placement at the rear and lower level of the building, which is not at all visible from the street, and may not even be evident from any vantage point in Parking Lot 6.”

Under the bistro ordinance requirements, “outdoor dining must be provided, weather permitting, along an adjacent street or passage during the months of May through October each year. Outdoor dining is not permitted past 12 a.m. If there is not sufficient space to permit such dining on a sidewalk adjacent ot the bistro, an elevated, ADA complaint, enclosed platform must be erected on the street adjacent to the bistro to create an outdoor dining area” and that “enclosures facilitating year-round dining outdoors are not permitted.”

Roman Bonislawski, of Ron and Roman, said the idea was to meet the spirit of the bistro ordinance in a unique space. Further, he said the winter garden portion isn’t intended to add additional indoor dining, but rather “weather permitted” dining.

If approved, outdoor dining beyond the prescribed season would require an additional outdoor dining permit, and require the business to move all outdoor tables and chairs inside each evening.

The planning board also heard from three residents on Brookside, across from the river stream, who all opposed the bistro location.

Resident Kristen Tait showed board members the view of the current building at night from her home office, which would clearly illuminated and be visible from her home.

“I can read license plates and hear conversations from here,” she said. “We’ve also lost trees and can see straight into the parking lot. I can see straight into The Pearl (apartment building) now, so that will be interesting when it opens.”

Rob Kamenec, who also lives on Brookside, agreed, saying the noise has become obtrusive.

“Slowly but surely, this neighborhood is being squeezed out by noise,” he said. 

While board members praised the design and concept of the bistro, they questioned if it met the bistro ordinance and would be a problematic location. Further, they indicated the proposed hours of operation, which were given verbally during the meeting, would need to be scaled back, as it would be open as late as 1 a.m. most nights.

“Is this the best place to put our best bistro?” questioned member Bert Koseck. “I think not.

“The premise of a bistro is to see and be seen, to look out and see activity with no more than 65 people, and when it’s nice it sprawls out onto the front. This has no visibility in the front. It reminds me of Edison’s  a little, which is cool. The activity sprawls out to the rear. If I lived there, I would be concerned.”

The board unanimously approved postponing any action until April 14, during the board’s scheduled workshop that evening.


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