Metro Detroit cities adapt zoning, permits to fit COVID-era dining

Posted at 4:30 AM, Nov 18, 2020

Starting Wednesday after midnight and lasting for three weeks, Michigan restaurants will face another major blow to business; more pandemic related restrictions in an effort to stop the spread of virus, which is surging around the state.

The new restrictions fall under an emergency health order through MDHHS, and require restaurants to temporarily halt indoor dining. Outdoor seating and carry out will continue. The order also forces the temporary closure of Detroit's casinos, bowling alleys, ice skating centers, movie theaters, and bars to name a few.

Since the start of the pandemic, several municipalities around Michigan have adjusted public planning in some way to help support businesses affected by shutdown orders, according to Andrea Brown, the executive director for the Michigan Association of Planning.

In the case of Royal Oak, the adjustment came in the form of a COVID-19 Temporary Use Permit.

“Our sidewalk cafe permits run from April to October typically. And essentially we’re just extending those until next spring," said Royal Oak City Commissioner Sharlan Douglas.

It was a unanimous move by the Royal Oak City Commission in mid-September. And now, with restaurant owners and their staff worried about the future, Douglas is glad the decision was made.

“They may use parking spaces in front of their establishment without any additional fees. We did close down Fifth Street to accommodate some of the establishments there," she said.

So far 25 Royal Oak restaurants have the permit, but it's also available to retailers and gyms, of which 8 in Royal Oak are using the permit.

A recent article in Planning & Zoning News highlighted data collected by municipal planning experts Jerry Adams, Kurt Schindler, John Wallace, and Mark Wyckoff. The data showed how a dozen different municipalities all around Michigan -- from up north to metro Detroit, adapted public space and even zoning to allow for continued restaurant business during the pandemic, with safety in mind.

Royal Oak's economic development manager Todd Fenton said new businesses are inquiring with the city as we approach winter, and possibly more restrictions are expected.

“Most of the permits we have received applications for have been tents or igloos, half domes, those sorts of areas," Fenton told 7 Action News.

The different outdoor dining options have caused some confusion as to what technically constitutes "outdoor dining," as many of the set-up are still enclosed spaces.

We reached out to the state's health department for clarification; according to MDHHS, a single household may dine inside an igloo, hut, or other small enclosed spaces without violating the order, if employees enter fleetingly or not at all.

It's not just about the next three weeks Brown said.

“There’s going to be a sea change now I think in how we manage our outdoor spaces," she said.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Michigan, a timeline of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Southeast Michigan, and links to more information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC and the WHO.

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

Visit our The Rebound Detroit, a place where we are working to help people impacted financially from the coronavirus. We have all the information on everything available to help you through this crisis and how to access it.