Parking variance lifted for seasonal seating in St. Clair Shores

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published October 7, 2021

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — St. Clair Shores will no longer require restaurant and bar owners to go before the Zoning Board of Appeals for a parking variance when installing outdoor seating after City Council voted to amend the zoning ordinance.

“The idea was that outdoor seating would not require a parking variance, as long as it was on a seasonal basis,” said City Planner Liz Koto.

The reasoning behind the change, which was proposed by City Council, is that patrons will either use the outdoor seating in fine weather or be indoors — with the outdoor seating removed and the parking spaces available for use again — once the season changes.

“It allows that business to have flexibility of seating during the warmer months and then remove that and have parking during the colder months,” she said Sept. 20.

Councilman John Caron said the idea was sparked by Dave Harden, the owner of Butter Run Saloon, 27626 Harper Ave., who needed a parking variance to expand his popular outdoor seating area.

“He said, either people are going to come and it’s good weather and they’re going to eat on the patio, or it’s going to be super cold and they’re going to eat inside,” Caron recalled. “There’s where some of these changes come (from). They come from our business owners.”

Councilman Dave Rubello pointed out that the city was allowing the variances anyway, but amending the ordinance simply saves the owners from having to go to ZBA after getting approval from the Planning Commission and City Council for their temporary outdoor seating.

“Usually, when lots of variances are granted for a particular ordinance, the idea was that we should change the ordinance, which is what’s happening here,” Koto agreed.

Koto had also proposed two other changes to the same section of the zoning ordinance, which she found were either out-of-date or had never been enforced.

A section of the ordinance, which allowed City Council to modify the yard or wall requirements for an off-street parking owner if no good purpose would be served by compliance with the order, was removed because state law changed 15 years ago. Only the ZBA can make that modification.

Another section of the off-street parking ordinance dealt with parking a recreational vehicle not owned by a resident in the rear yard of a residence for up to two weeks. The ordinance specified that that could only occur if a permit has first been obtained from the building official.

“Our department has never issued any type of a permit like that,” Koto said. “It’s just not really in the travelers’ mindset to obtain some sort of approval for an overnight stay with a family or friend.”

Councilman Chris Vitale wondered, however, if the city was “just searching for a problem that doesn’t exist here and potentially making it harder” if a resident was to have a problem with a neighbor having visitors in a recreational vehicle for a long period of time? He said he also did not appreciate that all three changes were being lumped into one vote, as he was not opposed to eliminating the parking variance requirement, but he was opposed to eliminating the language pertaining to the parking of recreational vehicles not owned by residents.

Caron pointed out, though, that it would be difficult for the city to know if an RV parked in a yard did or did not belong to the resident. Since the permit is only required for a nonresident, he said, “if it’s a permit never being used, let’s just take it off the books.”

Councilman Ron Frederick said neighbors would surely be calling the city if someone had a visitor camping in their backyard for more than two weeks.

“I don’t think this line really makes a difference,” he said. “Even if they don’t have a permit, what do we do? We’re still going to have to call the police.”

The changes were approved by a 5-1 vote of City Council, with Vitale opposed. Councilwoman Candice Rusie was absent but excused from the meeting.