Detroit reduces red tape for prospective restaurants

For years, if a restaurateur wanted to open an alcohol-serving establishment in Detroit outside of the central business district, he or she was hamstrung.

That's because of an alarming amount of red tape and delays to earning that privilege.

But things are changing.

A zoning change that advocates describe as a win for restaurant owners outside of downtown's 1.6 square miles — particularly with the proliferation of new dining spots there and in the greater downtown's 7.2 square miles — took effect last month after nearly three years of work.

As of July 11, restaurants throughout the city's 143 square miles that serve alcohol are considered a "by right" use. Translation: No longer do prospective restaurateurs need to go through a hearing process through the Building, Safety Engineering & Environmental Department and the Board of Zoning Appeals that could affect not only wallets — but also calendars — if they wanted to locate within 1,000 feet of two other alcohol-serving restaurants.

The process for one license could take up to $2,200 in city fees — not to mention costs for an attorney — and up to six to eight more months to receive BSEED and BZA approval for an alcohol-serving restaurant, said Tonja Stapleton, zoning administrator for BSEED.

"Basically, we were shooting ourselves in the foot when trying to create entertainment districts and different nodes," Stapleton said. "It really impacted the Livernois business district and Corktown and Eastern Market, and to some extent, New Center and Midtown."

A series of steps are required to open a restaurant in Detroit, including site selection, site plan approval and obtaining a liquor license, city business license and certificate of occupancy, among others.

Patrick Howe, a partner focusing on hospitality and land use for Royal Oak-based law firm Howard & Howard PLLC, said Corktown hot spots like Slows Bar BQ, Gold Cash Gold, Mercury Burger Bar and Sugar House all had to go through the prolonged process. 

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