BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS, EDITOR
Boyne business leaders and community members were back at city hall on Tuesday April 12, asking commissioners to approve a measure that would allow alcohol sales on the sidewalk areas of outdoor cafés.
Several years after a similar effort failed, Boyne City business, economic development and governmental officials in favor of the idea managed to get the issue back into the local legislative machinery … and now the Boyne City Planning Commission will be taking a look at the matter.
“At the March 15 meeting, we had a contingent of community members ask that you consider putting back on an agenda, for future discussion, the concept of sidewalk café(s) with alcohol service,” said Boyne City Main Street Program Executive Director Lori Meeder during the Boyne City Commission’s regular Tuesday April 12 meeting.
This issue first came about back in 2012 when representatives of Magnum Hospitality, which owns and operates numerous eateries including Cafe Santé and Red Mesa Grille, requested they be allowed to serve alcohol outdoors at Cafe Santé.
Magnum reps argued that sidewalk cafés with alcohol service are allowed in many cities across the country and that they are key parts of a robust local restaurant economy.
The city’s ordinance allowed sidewalk cafés but prohibited alcohol sales.
Magnum then sought to change the ordinance, as Meeder explained in her April 12 memo to the Boyne City Commission.
“In 2013, armed with much research, informational meetings, and input from other communities that
allow sidewalk dining with alcohol service, there was widespread support from the chamber board,
Main Street board, the planning commission, the police department and city staff to have the city
commission review a proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance to allow for sidewalk dining
with alcohol service,” she wrote. “An amendment to the ordinance—versus changing the ordinance—was suggested as this would prohibit any grandfathering in. If the amendment were to pass and the change did not produce the appropriate experience for our downtown, it could be changed without any grandfathering in.”
However, the Boyne City Commission voted the measure down.
Meeder suggested that, due to continued community support of the concept, the Boyne City Planning Commission be allowed to begin reviewing an amendment to the city’s ordinance that would allow alcohol sales at sidewalk cafés.
Why revisit now?
Boyne City Manager Michael Cain said sidewalk cafés which offer alcohol have only seemed to grow in popularity.
“I guess the biggest thing that’s changed since we considered this three years ago is that we have a number of communities—several in our own region—that have tried this as well, too,” he said. “And, they basically found what we discovered when we considered this in 2013 that, really, the communities that have tried this have not had any negative consequences with regards to it.”
However, Cain cautioned, “Just because it’s right in another community, though, doesn’t mean that it’s right in Boyne City.”
Cain said that he is very confident that Boyne City officials have always done what is right for the city and given themselves room to experiment with new ideas.
“Probably, in the last 15-or-so years, 95 percent of the things that we’ve tried we’ve kept,” he said. “We might have tweaked them a little bit but we’ve generally kept them.”
Cain added, “I think there’s plenty of evidence and support that says this is something worth trying.”
Boyne City Planning Director Scott McPherson explained the process would unfold should the city commission agree to allow it.
According to the city’s ordinance, an outdoor sidewalk café is defined as: “A type of outdoor café consisting of a service area set aside for the customers of a restaurant or similar establishment to be served food and drink with the exception of alcoholic beverages, on a public sidewalk or other public property other than a public parking space.”
McPherson laid out the rules in an April 12 memo to the Boyne City Commission.
“The process for the amendment and adoption of ordinances is established by the Boyne City Charter which requires that the city commission must hold a first reading and not less than one month later hold a second reading at which time the ordinance can be adopted,” McPherson stated. “Once adopted, the ordinance can become effective not less than 15 days after adoption.”
He added, “In addition to this required procedure, it has been city policy to have the planning commission review and make recommendations on new and amended ordinances.”
The timeline is expected to look thusly:
Boyne City realtor, resident and Charlevoix County Commissioner Chris Christensen asked if restaurants would be putting tables and chairs on sidewalks near their establishments and whether there would be fences dividing the walkways from the eatery areas.
“We don’t have the widest sidewalks in town,” he said, adding that it could create a bottleneck on Water St.
He also asked if the ordinance would address the issue.
McPherson said the current ordinance calls for a clear four-foot path width on sidewalks.
Meeder said the ordinance already allows the restaurants to put tables and chairs outdoors.
Christensen said he is not opposed to the idea but wanted to make sure all considerations were looked at before approving it.
Boyne City developer Glen Catt, who supports the measure, said his tenants Magnum Hospitality have earned the right to at least give the proposal a try.
Boyne City Commissioner Delbert “Gene” Towne said he has heard from citizens both in favor and against the idea. Concerns he shared included the flow of pedestrian traffic, how it might affect the weekly summer Stroll the Streets event, and some asked if it could be tried on a trial basis.
“So, what I did is, I went down and visited the restaurants this weekend and I tried to visualize tables, umbrellas … stuff like that and see if it could be roped off so the alcohol could be sold there, and I didn’t see a problem with it,” he said.
Towne said comments in favor of the measure included that it would be good for business and add life to the downtown area.
Boyne City Commissioner Hugh Conklin said Cafe Santé had indicated that it could not only make them more profit but result in several more jobs created.
“I think they deserve the opportunity to do this,” Conklin said. “They’ve been great stewards for the downtown. They’ve been a rock in the community. They give back to the community in so many different ways.”
Conklin said he has spoken with people in numerous communities over the years and they have indicated there are no concerns about allowing outdoor alcohol sales in sidewalk cafés.
Boyne City Commissioner Ron Grunch said he would be open to trying a two-year trial basis with a condition that it would not be permitted on the July 4 holiday or during Friday Stroll the Streets events.
Grunch said it is already total gridlock during Stroll the Streets and that the outdoor cafés would only exacerbate the situation.
Grunch also said he did not feel an ordinance amendment is necessary for a trial run.
“The trial basis would give us a better understanding of how this is gonna work,” he said. “So, I would really suggest that we go on a … two-year trial basis and possibly have a three- or a five-person committee to monitor it.”
Grunch said such a committee could report back to the city commission twice-a-year on the trial’s progress.
Grunch said if the proposed ordinance amendment allowed outdoor café alcohol sales during Stroll the Streets, he would vote against it.
Conklin told Grunch that the ordinance already allows outdoor sidewalk café food service during Stroll the Streets.
Cain said city staff could investigate the idea of a trial-run with the city’s attorney but it was apparent that such a move likely was not allowed.
“Stroll the Streets is very special. It’s unique to our community. We don’t want to jeopardize that. I don’t want to jeopardize that in any way, shape or form,” Grunch said. “And, it’s pretty much a family event. It’s almost gridlocked. It’s total congestion, especially on Water Street.”
He added, “I just can’t visualize it happening on Stroll the Street(s) nights.”
Towne said that was a sentiment he also heard regarding the matter.
Meeder suggested maybe allowing the alcohol sales during Stroll the Streets but not in the areas where the events are actually occurring.
Boyne City Mayor Tom Neidhamer said he thinks the issue of pedestrian traffic flow can be worked out.
“I’m in favor of moving forward through the process recommended,” he said, adding that he would entertain the idea of expediting the process with a trial-run by waiving the ordinance amendment requirement if that was an option.
Conklin made a motion that the planning commission review the ordinance as McPherson explained before they come back to the city commission for further discussion.
McPherson said he did not feel a trial basis was necessary because the city commission can revoke the amendment if it decided in the future that alcohol sales in outdoor café sidewalks was not a good fit for Boyne City.
The motion passed 4-0; Boyne City Commissioner Laura Sansom was absent from the meeting.