The Morrie to expand outdoor dining
By Kevin Elliott
Outdoor dining at The Morrie, 260 N. Old Woodward in downtown Birmingham, will be expanded to by 32 seats in 2022 following special approval on Monday, September 20, by the Birmingham City Commission.
Commissioners approved a special land use permit, site plan and design review for a 600-square-foot dining platform with a short list of exceptions, including a sunset provision intended to allow for adjustments for future changes to the city’s outdoor dining regulations.
Restauranteur Aaron Belen and his AFB Hospitality Group opened The Morrie in 2019, which included an outdoor dining patio for 14 tables. However, Belen, along with many other restaurants in the city, were permitted to expand outdoor dining during the pandemic to compensate for state-wide dining restrictions. Those restrictions were withdrawn at the end of June, requiring restaurants to return to pre-COVID outdoor dining restrictions.
The Birmingham planning board is working with city staff to rewrite the city’s outdoor dining ordinance to provide expanded dining opportunities throughout the year. In order to permit some expanded dining, planning board members recommended placing a sunset provision on current outdoor dining approvals so that they can be adjusted to align with the new ordinance when it’s complete.
Belen, who appeared before the city commission on September 20, said the expanded dining was well received by customers and is an important part of the restaurant's business model moving forward. Likewise, he said nearby businesses have enjoyed the increased foot traffic spurred by outdoor dining.
City commissioner Mark Nickita concurred, saying that outdoor dining is a clear benefit to the area. However, he said he saw a necessity to place a sunset on the approval as the city is in the process of rewriting its outdoor dining ordinance to provide more opportunities to local restaurants.
“I encourage outdoor seating beyond (the existing season), but if we approve this for the long term, there are issues with that,” Nickita said. “The sunset provision allows us to recognize that deviation.”
The provision was recommended by members of the Birmingham Planning Board, which reviewed The Morrie’s request for expanded outdoor dining. The planning board worked with Belen to reduce the size of the proposed platform, reducing the number of public parking spaces utilized for the platform to four spaces, down from five.
City commissioners debated whether the deck could be reduced or expanded to further manipulate the number of parking spaces used for the platform, but settled on four.
“I think parking spots are in demand and I think they are important,” said commissioner Rackeline Hoff said, suggesting additional spaces should be made available.
“Usually, I want to make decks smaller, but I would rather see us using more space to activate this area more than it is already,” said commissioner Stuart Sherman, who wanted to expand the deck to provide more dining area.
Commissioners approved the outdoor dining platform through November 15, 2022, at which point The Morrie may need to reapply for the platform if it doesn’t comply with the future ordinance. Commissioners voted 5-2 to approve, with commissioners Hoff and Brad Host voting against the approval.