The social districts in Ferndale cover both the east and west sides of Woodward Avenue. This map shows the projected boundaries for the districts, but the city stated that it had not been finalized.

The social districts in Ferndale cover both the east and west sides of Woodward Avenue. This map shows the projected boundaries for the districts, but the city stated that it had not been finalized.

Map by Jason Clancy

Ferndale’s social districts to open more outdoor space to alcohol consumption

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published February 9, 2021

FERNDALE — The city of Ferndale is considering the establishment of social districts to support businesses in the downtown.

During its Jan. 25 meeting, the City Council received a presentation from Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Lena Stevens on the creation of two social districts in Ferndale’s downtown.

The social districts, which would be referred to as The Ferndale Patio Zone, would allow patrons at participating businesses to purchase alcoholic beverages and consume them in a designated area.

“Within those social districts there are something called commons areas in which restaurants or any business with a liquor license can actually sell a drink in a 16-ounce or less cup for people to take outside and enjoy outside,” Stevens said during the meeting. “This allows for more social distancing and perhaps, you know, keeping people a little bit safer and maybe a little more attractive to come to downtown if they didn’t have to be inside.”

As laid out in the presentation, there would be one district on the east side of Woodward Avenue and another on the west side. Only drinks served in official Patio Zone cups would be allowed to be taken outside. The area was made large, as there was fear that smaller areas would lead to too much congregation and turn them into party areas. The DDA would be responsible for developing and implementing a management plan with city staff.

Under the rules, if a patron buys a cup in Patio Zone east, they can’t take it with them to Patio Zone west. Customers also can’t reuse the cups and would have to discard them after consuming their beverages.

All of these governing rules are set by the state as part of the program, City Manager Joe Gacioch told the Woodward Talk. He also elaborated that if you buy a cup from one restaurant, you can’t bring that cup into another restaurant and would have to get a new cup from the new restaurant.

“When the Michigan Liquor Control Commission is setting it, they’re always concerned about safety first, making sure that there are measures in place to mitigate minors consuming alcohol, and so restricting the use of the cups is one way to do that,” he said. “They’re also applying some kind of measures of control to make sure that we’re not encouraging overconsumption.”

The social districts would be piloted by the city and DDA from April 1 to June 30. The proposed hours would be noon to 10 p.m. Thursdays to Sundays.

“That would give us enough time to test the idea, to work out any kinks and then to also say we need to have a check-in and say maybe this isn’t right for us or maybe we need to change something,” Stevens said.

The plan is expected to return to the City Council for approval on Feb. 22. It also will go before the DDA board for a vote Feb. 11. If both bodies approve the social districts, Ferndale and the DDA will begin to reach out to potential participants, create a city permit process for businesses to apply, and send the applications to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission. They expect the MLCC to take two to three weeks to review the applications.

Once the approval is obtained, the city will begin the program’s implementation by guiding the businesses through both Ferndale’s and the MLCC’s permit process.

Stevens believes this is something that Ferndale should try.

“I recognize that it’s new, I recognize that it’s different, and I also recognize that maybe we decide later that it’s not the right fit, but businesses are struggling,” she said. “I believe that social distancing is going to be important for at least another year. I think people are not going to be used to being together, even if I could snap my fingers and make it safe tomorrow. We’ve all gotten used to being pretty distant from each other, so I think offering this is a great way to deal with that and still be able to go out and support our businesses.”