New Birmingham Bars, Restaurants Now Need Special Permit to Sell Alcohol

The Birmingham City Commission decided that existing businesses will also need to obtain the same permit when they want to make major changes.

In July, Birmingham City Manager Bob Bruner said the city was .

However on Monday night, the Birmingham City Commission debated those changes for more than an hour as they tried to figure out the best way to assume control of liquor license transfers after a recent rule change by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC).

Ultimately, the commission voted 7-0 to amend the city zoning code so that new businesses looking to sell on-premise alcohol would need to obtain a Special Land Use Permit (SLUP) from the city.

In addition, current liquor licensed establishments will now need to obtain a SLUP when there's a change in ownership, a name change or a site plan review.

"(When it comes to liquor licenses in Birmingham) I want to the City Commission to be captain of its own destiny rather than relying on somebody else," Bruner said.

Cities have their biggest problems with liquor licenses during transfers, city manager says

Monday night was the culmination of a hurried process that , when the MLCC changed its rules so that businesses don't need local approval when transferring their liquor license.

The rule change puts municipalities in a tough spot, Bruner said: not only does this mean Birmingham's existing liquor licenses can be transferred at will, but licenses from other cities can also be transferred in — and city officials wouldn't know anything about it.

"Cities have their biggest problems with liquor licenses when transferring licenses," Bruner said at the July 11 planning board meeting.

To fill this hole, Bruner's office developed a plan that would eventually bring all businesses with liquor licenses under a SLUP, a special contract that can only be changed with city approval.

Currently, SLUPs are required for businesses operating with a Birmingham bistro license as well as for various other reasons, such if restaurants are considered very large (like the Griffin Claw Brewery) or if stores have a drive-thru window (like Walgreens).

Bruner first introduced his plan to the planning board in mid-July, which held a public hearing on the matter on July 25, eventually recommending the entire plan. A public hearing in front of the city commission was scheduled for Aug. 13 but had to be delayed due to improper noticing.

However, the city has been looking at ways to better regulate its Class C liquor licenses for more than a year. The discussion began in January 2011 during a , and quickly escalated after several public safety incidents downtown in April.

At the May 21 city commission meeting, Bruner then presented .

Birmingham has already taken several steps toward fixing the problem, that would force liquor licensed establishments to come before the commission if they want to change owners.

And on Monday, Birmingham struck a deal with an attorney representing the , agreeing not request the revocation of that liquor license in return for .

'I believe we ought to err on the side of caution'

On Monday, commissioners easily agreed that new businesses with liquor licenses should be required to obtain a SLUP before opening.

However, commissioners were especially concerned with existing businesses and argued for more than an hour over what the appropriate triggers should be for forcing a business into a contract with the city.

"We have to balance a desire to allow existing establishments to operate without SLUPs ... but at the same time, we have to have triggers in the SLUP," Bruner said. "We don't want any loopholes in the ordinance for someone to come in and change a business."

Originally, Bruner proposed that the five triggers to force an existing business into a SLUP would be:

  • A change of ownership
  • A name change
  • A site plan review
  • A design review
  • A sign change

Commissioners eventually dropped the last two conditions after it was evident the motion might not pass by leaving them there. According to Bruner, applying for a SLUP costs $2,800.

"I want to give our current restauranteurs some leeway," Commissioner Rackeline Hoff said. "I don't want to over-regulate."

Commissioner Stuart Sherman agreed, asking that design review be taken off the list.

"Design review does concern me because while (applying for a SLUP) may not appear to be a burden on the business owners, I don't want to discourage them from reinvesting in their business," he said. "I'm concerned about over-regulating a group that we haven't had real issues with."

Hoff also expressed concern that under the new zoning code, Birmingham's liquor licenses may be devalued. Bruner said he believes recent liquor licenses in Birmingham have cost close to $300,000, a market-driven price down significantly from Birmingham's peak years when licenses went for between $700,000.

"Do these kinds of regulations dilute the value of a license?" Commissioner Scott Moore asked. "I look at the price of a liquor license in Birmingham compared to the rest of Michigan, and we're ten fold ahead."

"At some point, regulation is a balancing act," he added. "It should achieve not a punishing aspect, but it should achieve a goal."

However, Commissioner Gordon Rinschler insisted the commission should be cautious about leaving any loopholes.

"I'm not saying this was easy or we have it absolutely perfect," he said. "I think we ought to err on the side of caution."


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