California-based chain to bring craft beer, burgers to Sterling

City Council also extends banquet facility moratorium

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published May 10, 2017

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STERLING HEIGHTS — The Sterling Heights City Council gave a Class C liquor license and associated permits April 18 to a California-based restaurant chain’s new location.

BJ’s Restaurants Inc. plans to open a new restaurant, BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, near Hall Road/M-59 and Schoenherr Road, at 14455 Lakeside Circle. The property used to contain a Linens ‘n’ Things store before it went out of business.

According to the chain, which was founded in 1978 in Orange County, California, the restaurant would sell hamburgers, deep-dish pizza, craft beer and more.

Tom Hundrieser, director of real estate for BJ’s Restaurants, said his company selected the Sterling Heights area based on its demographics, restaurant performance, retail activity and traffic, and he said he is “very bullish” about it.

The proposed restaurant would be approximately 7,600 square feet, would seat around 255 diners and would staff around 120 workers, with one-third of those being full time, he said.

Hundrieser estimated that the Sterling Heights restaurant could open in the first or second quarter of 2018, sometime around March or April. He said the chain is also exploring new BJ’s restaurants for Ann Arbor, Livonia and Taylor. Overall, he said, the chain has 191 restaurants in 24 states.

“Our restaurants perform at the higher end of the casual dining segment, and yet are still an affordable destination for families as well,” he said.

When BJ’s is built, it will stand on the western part of the former Linens ‘n’ Things property, Hundrieser said. A “fast casual” restaurant and a phone store are expected to occupy the eastern end, he added.

He said BJ’s restaurants tend to look somewhat different across the country, and this one would feature brick with a mural on one of the building’s sides.

During public comment, resident Joe Judnick discussed whether the restaurant would have to forbid outdoor patio service after 11 p.m. to comply with city regulations.

“Certainly, there is definitely no prohibition anywhere in the ordinance that would actually prohibit anybody from serving or offering service outdoors” after 11 p.m. at the restaurant, Assistant City Attorney Don DeNault Jr. said.

Mayor Michael Taylor was enthusiastic about the restaurant and welcomed it to the city. He added that the new development would be an improvement over the vacant Linens ‘n’ Things building, which he said turns into a Halloween store for part of the year.

“I’m not aware of any other restaurants right now that are brewhouses that brew their own beer, whether on-site or not, and serve it at their own restaurant in the city of Sterling Heights, and correct me if I’m wrong,” Taylor said.

“For a city like Sterling Heights with 132,000 residents and the craft beer craze that’s been going on for almost a decade now, it seems kind of like an anomaly that we haven’t had a use like that.”

While the City Council approved the liquor license and permits for the restaurant, it followed that action by unanimously agreeing to extend by three additional months a six-month moratorium on opening new banquet facilities or expanding them.

DeNault explained that the city passed a six-month moratorium on new banquet facilities or their expansions in November 2016 due to discovering that the city code doesn’t really mention them. He also said those types of facilities have had unprecedented growth in the city, and officials wanted to see that sort of development taper down.

“Since that time, we’ve tried to use that time very well and very wisely, working with police, fire, planning (and the) clerk to sort of identify the issues we’d want to cover if we did put together ordinances,” he said. “And at this time, I can report that we have a working draft in place, but we do need more time.”

DeNault said the courts have typically allowed municipalities to hold such moratoriums for up to a year. He said the three-month extension is important to cover the period before new changes to the city’s regulations are possibly passed. That way, a banquet hall couldn’t slip in and suddenly open or expand under the old regulations — thus securing grandfathered status before new rules could be passed, he explained.

City Council members did not express any concerns or questions about the moratorium extension.

Resident Joe Judnick said during public comment that he wants to make sure that developments can fund their projects so they don’t just sit there incomplete or get built piecemeal as they acquire money.

“Whatever you guys do is great with me,” he said. “Put it in another three months; make sure you get it right. But I’d like to see the developer have to produce some line of credit or something.”

Find out more about Sterling Heights by visiting www.sterling-heights.net or by calling (586) 446-2489. Find out more about BJ’s Restaurants Inc. by visiting www.bjsrestaurants.com.

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