By ZEINAB NAJM
As the weather gets colder, Dearborn and Dearborn Heights restaurants are finding new ways to serve customers outdoors as they await word when their indoor dining spaces can reopen.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a new emergency order enacting a three-week lockdown effective Nov. 18 with a target on indoor social gatherings and other group activities in effort to slow the COVID-19 cases.
All bars and restaurants had to close their dining rooms but were able to open for outdoor services, carryout, curbside pickup and delivery.
During the summer and fall months, local restaurants utilized their outdoor or patios to serve customers when indoor dining had previously closed, but with the winter coming, city governments made adjustments to allow for temporary outdoor service areas.
Restaurants like Mint 29 installed igloos with personal heaters, Modern Greek created a Santa’s Little Village with Christmas decorations and private heated rooms, and both Lava Lounge locations in Dearborn and Dearborn Heights are using their outdoor heated patios to serve customers.
Early on, restaurants also began using QCR menus to eliminate physical menus and allow customers to scan a code to access menus on their devices instead.
City councils in Dearborn and Dearborn Heights made amendments to their zoning and permit requirements in support of temporary outdoor service.
The Dearborn City Council extended its resolution granting the outdoor service in response to COVID-19 related restrictions on businesses until Jan. 3. Accommodations made for the fee waiver was set to expire on Nov. 1.
In addition, the council waived all fees for permits related to heating elements for outdoor service areas too. Also, the city relaxed zoning requirements, adding public property, streets and alleys as potential venues for outdoor business use.
On June 16, the council first authorized the Temporary Administrative Authority to waive certain zoning and permitting requirements in support of outdoor service areas.
Council President Susan Dabaja said the city administration spoke to businesses which were using the outdoor seating and they agreed to continue using it.
“This is a way for the city to help our local shops, restaurants and service businesses to really survive during this difficult time,” she said during an Oct. 20 virtual meeting.
In Dearborn Heights, the council unanimously passed a motion to amend the zoning ordinance for outdoor seating regulations for restaurants during its Nov. 24 virtual meeting.
The resolution allows for more than 50 percent seating for outdoor restaurant areas.
Councilman Dave Abdallah explained the primary change made.
“Outdoor seating capacity before must not be greater than 50 percent of the indoor seating capacity, now this allows for that where is more outdoor seating then indoor seating — the primary reason for that is with all the issues during COVID-19 pandemic there are a lot of people that want to sit outside and don’t want to go inside,” he said. “During this particular lockdown none of us are allowed to go inside for dining.”
Hassan Chami, owner of The Terry Melt, spoke before the council approved the amendment, saying if he didn’t have the patio at his restaurant he would’ve closed the businesses.
“The temporary permit that I was granted this past summer saved my business and also saved the businesses in the area as well,” Chami said. “Outdoor patio is much needed during this COVID-19 pandemic. I am a pharmacist as well, I have a pharmacy in the city as well, and I wanted to mention that with the vaccine coming out there’s still going to be restrictions on how we operate so we’re hoping you can extend the patios seating for the future for permanent seating.”
In the zoning ordinance amendment, outdoor seating area was made a permitted accessory use at restaurants, bars, taverns, coffee shops, cafes, bistros, bakeries, delicatessens, specially food stores and or other similar establishments.
Outdoor seating ares were permitted as a special use requiring special use approval and site plan approval by the planning commission, so the amendment provides that temporary outdoor seating areas would require administrative approval. Permanent outdoor seating areas would require full site plan approval by the planning commission.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])