The way Birmingham handles businesses looking for a liquor license could change in the near future.
The Birmingham City Commission will set a public hearing Monday night after City Manager Bob Bruner laid out a tentative plan to gain back local control over liquor license transfers after new state rules stripped local municipalities of their say in the matter.
To do this, Bruner is requesting the city amend its zoning code so that any business looking to sell on-premise alcohol only be permitted with a Special Land Use Permit (SLUP).
In addition, a SLUP would also be required should any business — new or existing — wish to change its name or owners.
Bruner introduced the plan at the Birmingham Planning Board meeting on July 11, when that body scheduled a study session on the topic for its July 25 meeting and a public hearing on Aug. 8.
The issue could come back before the city commission for a public hearing as early as Aug. 13.
Downtown crime spurs discussion of regulating liquor licenses
According to Bruner, the city has been looking at ways to better regulate Class C liquor licenses for more than a year.
The discussion began in January 2011 during a joint meeting of the city commission and planning board and quickly escalated after several public safety incidents in April 2012 — including a gun being discharged on South Old Woodward and several fights at other bars around town.
After increasing police patrols and instructing the now-closed South Bar, Chen Chow and Hamilton Room to shut down valet service early, the city announced it would be investigating short-term public safety concerns and long-term public policy issues regarding Birmingham businesses with liquor licenses.
At the May 21 city commission meeting, Bruner presented five options for better monitoring businesses with liquor licenses, including options that required SLUPs or amending the city's zoning code.
At the time, Mayor Mark Nickita said the commission didn't have enough information to make any decisions but urged city staff to move forward with its research.
New state rules take away local control, Bruner says
However, everything changed in late June, when the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC) changed the rules for transferring liquor licenses.
According to the new rules, businesses do not have to receive local approval to transfer a liquor license — they need only apply to the MLCC directly.
According to Bruner, this could be a problem. The new law, he said, effectively takes away any local control Birmingham once had over liquor license transfers within city limits.
"Cities have their biggest problems with liquor licenses when transferring licenses," Bruner told the planning board on July 11.
Since the new rules went into effect July 1, Bruner said a business could potentially move to transfer their liquor license and the city wouldn't have a say.
To make up for this window, Bruner is turning to SLUPs. According to Birmingham zoning code, business owners are required to obtain SLUPs for various reasons to operate in the city. The Griffin Claw Brewery received one due to their size while the new Walgreens needed one because of their drive-thru window.
Businesses looking for a new liquor license have always come before the city commission, however by amending a key part of the zoning code, Bruner is hoping Birmingham can bring license transfers back under the city's purview.
To do this, Bruner is requesting the city consider changing its continuance of non-conformity policy. This would require both new and existing businesses that sell alcohol to obtain a SLUP if there is any change in ownership, name, signage or the business's site plan.
By requiring SLUPs when businesses want to change, Bruner is hoping the city will be able to keep an eye on liquor license transfers as well.
"By having these zoning amendment changes, this is the only way to compel liquor license establishments to come before the City Commission," Bruner added.
Bruner said moving quickly on the SLUP idea is out of the norm for Birmingham.
"Normally I would say review first, then action," he said. "But because of the circumstances, we need action first ... so we don't have these issues happening in our community without local control."
The Birmingham City Commission meets at 7:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall.