Whistle Stop bistro moves to city commission
By Kevin Elliott
Renovations that include outdoor seating and a bistro license to allow for brunch cocktails moved forward on Wednesday, June 9, as the Birmingham Planning Board forwarded site plans for Whistle Stop Diner, 501 S. Eton, to the city commission for final approval.
Under the city’s bistro license application process, the city may approve two new bistro licenses for existing restaurants each year, in addition to two new restaurants. Whistle Stop Diner and Commonwealth are both existing restaurants that applied for bistro applications with the city. Commonwealth has yet to submit their application to the city’s planning department.
Planning board members reviewed the final site plan and design for Whistle Stop Diner, as well as a special land use permit request. Members approved forwarding both issues to the city commission with a recommendation to approve, with board member Stuart Jeffares voting against approval.
The plans for the diner call for a major renovation to accommodate 64 seats inside and 28 in a new outdoor patio. The interior seating would remove some existing booths and replace them with tables. The outdoor patio would be located adjacent to the building, with the existing sidewalk rerouted around the patio and the grassy skirt next to the street replaced with pervious concrete.
Jeffares took issue with replacing the grassy area with concrete, leading to his opposing vote.
“This isn’t hundreds of people walking by,” Jeffares said. “It’s not a sidewalk like on Pierce, but to take out that much green space because it’s convenient and makes it tidier, I don’t think that’s what the city is about.”
Architect Jawan Matti, who represented the applicants/owners of Whistle Stop Diner, said the proposed concrete is a pervious material in hopes to balance out the amount of concrete.
Jeffares also urged the applicant to add a bike rack and/or bench to the concrete pad to provide some purpose to the area. Board members agreed to require streetscape improvements as a condition of approval, with the applicant agreeing.
The Whistle Stop was started in 1965 in the city’s Rail District, taking its name from the nearby railroad. Wife and husband Elda and Valter began working at the restaurant in 1999, eventually purchasing it in 2012. The couple expanded to a Pleasant Ridge location on Woodward Avenue in 2015, which they expanded with a liquor license. They are now pursuing a bistro license to add a modest drink menu to the Birmingham location. The proposed drinks include Bloody Mary, Tequila Sunrise, Spanish and Irish coffee, Madras, Screwdriver and Champagne.
Attorney Patrick Howe, representing the owners, said they wouldn’t seek additional drinks at this time, and would return with an amendment request in the future if they desired a change.
Two members of the public spoke during the meeting, both who voiced concerns about parking in the area. Both requested the planning board deny the applicant until additional parking requirements are in place.
Board president Scott Clein noted the applicant was decreasing the number of seats inside the restaurant, and that the limited cocktail menu wouldn’t draw significant traffic or lead to additional parking issues.
“Parking is a continued issue in pretty much every development or project that we see,” Clein said. “In this case, we have an existing establishment that is operating already.”
Board member Daniel Share concurred.
“It’s very limited and there’s no change in the hours,” Share said. “I don’t think it will increase parking. Not to minimize parking, but I don’t think it’s on the applicant to solve it.”
Board members approved forwarding the site plan and special land use permit request to the city commission with recommendation for approval with six conditions. The conditions include the planning board approve 67-percent glazing on the front of the building, opposed to 70 percent required by city ordinance; including specifications for garage doors windows to be installed; to provide a certified land survey; that the applicant work with city departments to improve the streetscape; the applicant replace the existing tinted windows with clear windows; and that the applicant comply with all city department requests.