BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS, EDITOR
Boyne City Planning Director Scott McPherson presented the concept of allowing alcohol sales in sidewalk cafés to the Boyne City Planning Commission at that board’s Monday April 18 meeting.
The Boyne City Commission voted at its April 12 meeting to send the matter to the planning commission for review and recommendation.
“As part of that discussion, there were some concerns about various aspects of it and particularly how it may impact Stroll the Streets,” McPherson told planning commissioners… “I think you should take that into consideration but I don’t think you should base your recommendation on what you believe the city commission wants.”
He added, “I think you need to make a recommendation (on) what you think is best.”
History of the issue
Back in 2013, Boyne City amended its main zoning ordinance and adopted the sidewalk café ordinance.
“Previous to that, the sidewalk café and outdoor dining was all part of the zoning ordinance,” McPherson said. “At that time, it was separated and the sidewalk café was developed for the specific provision to allow the city commission to either adopt it or change it without worrying about grandfathering things in the future. The ordinance that was submitted to the city commission at that time did provide for alcohol on the sidewalks.”
He added, “The city commission decided they didn’t want to adopt it as such and it was amended to exclude alcohol sales as part of the sidewalk café—all the other provisions for sidewalk cafés was remaining.”
Justin Gibbert, General Manager of Red Mesa Grill attended the planning commission meeting along with two of his co-managers and a representative of Café Sante. Both Red Mesa and Café Sante are owned by Magnum Hospitality, which has been a long-time supporter of the concept of allowing alcohol sales at sidewalk cafés.
“This is the third time I’ve been to one of these meetings and, obviously, we are very much for the sidewalk sales and I want to see what we can do to get this thing moving along and answer any questions you may have,” Gibbert said.
The representatives of the restaurants said alcohol sales would only enhance their ability to best serve customers at the six outdoor tables they have in their outdoor café section. They also said the increased business could mean more jobs.
Boyne Mountain Food and Beverage Director Mike Doumanian said, as a resident of Northern Michigan, he loves the ability to eat and drink outside.
“The key is on this: it’s not just people drinking outside, it’s people eating and drinking … enjoying this great atmosphere that we have in Northern Michigan,” he said. “I have multiple dining facilities at Boyne Mountain that have outdoor dining and they fill up—and it creates this unique atmosphere and, downtown, it will create that atmosphere as well.”
He added, “It’s not all about alcohol but it adds to the experience.”
Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jim Baumann mentioned an informal study the chamber performed to see what people in the area thought about sidewalk café alcohol sales. The overwhelming response was supportive of the idea.
Baumann reminded the commission that, back when this issue first arose in 2013, the planning commission supported it, the chamber of commerce board supported it. In fact, the only body to denounce the proposal was the Boyne City Commission.
“Everybody I talked to said that’s crazy. Everybody else does it. There’s no problems in Charlevoix, Petoskey, other places—it just didn’t make sense,” Baumann said. “So, I did a survey and, sure enough, 76 percent of the people who responded to our survey said ‘yes, we would like to see outdoor dining with alcohol.’”
Boyne City Commissioner Ron Grunch, at the April 12 meeting, said he would support a trial run of the concept but only if it were disallowed during both Friday Stroll the Streets, which occurs weekly all summer—approximately 10 times throughout the summer—and on the July 4 holiday, due to fears that alcohol sales could only make an already busy atmosphere chaotic.
Baumann said making such caveats in the ordinance would ignore the fact that there are numerous other establishments downtown which offer outdoor seating and service including ice-cream and burger shops.
“The traffic seems to move around them no problem at all. Sure, it’s busy downtown—that’s what we like, you know, we want it to be busy downtown on Friday nights, and every night,” he said, adding that it could be “tricky territory” to allow some outdoor businesses to operate during those times but not others.
Steve Van Dam, owner of Van Dam Custom Boats in Boyne City, said he supports the measure.
“I don’t see any negatives to this,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate to bring clients in from around the country and Boyne City’s a great place to take them for lunch or for dinner and it just would be nice in summertime to be able to sit down at dinner and have a drink with them on a nice evening and be able to sit outside at Café (Sante) or whatever.”
Boyne City Planning Commission member George Ellwanger said he was very much in favor of the concept when it was originally brought to him several years ago.
He did say if the Boyne City Commission has concerns about sidewalk alcohol sales, he wants to address those concerns.
But, Ellwanger added, “I am very much in favor of proceeding and making the recommendation to the commission,” he said.
Boyne City Planning Commission member Joe St. Dennis said he has a problem with the regulation of a minimum of a four-foot berth required for traffic flow along sidewalk areas, adding that he felt it was not enough room.
“I’m not worried about kids,” he said. “I’m worried about the older generation.”
St. Dennis said pedestrian traffic congestion could make movement difficult or dangerous for the elderly.
St. Dennis asked Baumann what the 24 percent of people who responded to his survey opposed about alcohol service in sidewalk cafés.
Baumann said the most prevalent complaint was that the sidewalks were already crowded. He said others indicated they simply do not like alcohol nor the idea of outside alcohol sales and consumption.
Boyne City Planning Commission member Tom Neidhamer, who is also Boyne City’s Mayor and a Boyne City Commission member, said he supported the concept in recent years and he supports it now.
Neidhamer was the lone Boyne City Commissioner to vote in favor of the measure in a 4-1 decision that killed the concept.
“We’re not debating the four-foot but I guess we could. I didn’t think of it that way,” he said. “I was thinking we were debating one word: ‘alcohol’ because the four-foot, when we approved this two years ago, we approved the four-foot.”
Neidhamer said he is unaware of any complaints to the city that the sidewalks are too narrow during Stroll the Streets or other heavy-use times.
Commission discussion turned to whether smoking is allowed in the outdoor cafés. It is not allowed.
The sidewalk cafés must be adjacent to the business they are associated with. This means near the restaurant but it does not dictate where around the sidewalk area the tables and chairs are to be located.
“Adjacent” simply means one restaurant cannot put its table and chairs in front of another restaurant.
Some planning commission members suggested regulating exactly where those tables and chairs could be located. McPherson advised against that, stating that each business should decide where it wants its outdoor service located.
One concern was voiced that curbside service would force restaurant staff to travel through crowds on the sidewalk to go to and from the outdoor tables.
Outdoor advertising—mainly umbrellas with beer and soda ads on them—were discussed. Some on the commission felt signage and other advertising should not be allowed.
Neidhamer said the matter should already be covered in the city’s sign ordinance. McPherson concurred.
Neidhamer said the potential issues some people think they are trying to solve in this matter would only affect a very few nights.
“There’s 90 days (approximate summertime), 10 of ’em are Friday nights, five of them might be raining, three of them the streets are open,” he said… “We’re trying, I think, to make this more complicated than it needs to be with respect that we have so many checks and balances and we have the philosophy in Boyne City that, ‘let’s do it, let’s try it’ and, if it doesn’t work, we have so many checks and balances we can tweak it.”
Just before voting, the question was raised whether the planning commission’s recommendation would include a caveat that the ordinance be instated on a trial basis.
McPherson said all ordinances like the proposed are subject to the pleasure of the city and can be changed or rescinded.
The measure to recommend to the city commission that it allows alcohol sales in sidewalk cafés passed by a vote of 6-1.
St. Dennis was the lone “no” vote.
The Boyne City Commission was scheduled to take this matter up at its April 26 meeting with a first reading of the proposed ordinance amendment.
June 14 is the earliest date the city commission could hold a second reading of the proposed amendment. And, June 30 is the earliest date the new rule could come into effect if approved by the city commission.