Outdoor dining season is back in East Lansing 

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East Lansing restaurants soon will have more options for al fresco dining.  The City Council is extending streamlined reviews of outdoor dining areas to help restaurants recover from the pandemic. 

During the March 21 East Lansing city council meeting the council voted 3-2 on approving the recurring resolution to reinstate the policy temporarily allowing a streamlined review of restaurants proposing expanded outdoor dining areas. The stated goal of the resolution is to help restaurants with occupancy limits stemming from the pandemic by allowing them to expand outdoor seating capacity. 

The resolution, approved 3-2 on March 21,  will also eliminate fees for businesses that wish to expand seating into outdoor areas.

The resolution will: 

  • Streamline the outdoor seating/Site Plan approval process by allowing for administrative approvals to be decided by the Planning and Zoning Administrator rather than require City Council and Planning Commission approval
  • Temporarily eliminate fees for businesses that wish to expand seating capacity into adjacent outdoor areas
  • Expand the service period beyond the typical March 15-Nov.15 seasonal cutoff, allowing use of the public ROW ( the area on, below, or above property that has been designated for use as or is used for a public roadway, highway, street, sidewalk, alley or similar purpose) for restaurants on a year-round basis, subject to submittal of a snow removal plan.

Matt Apostle, the city’s community and economic development specialist, presented the proposal. 

Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg seemed excited about the plans. She asked, “Is there a thought towards making that more permanent?” 

Apostle said it is  a priority for the staff to start working on that soon. 

Councilmember George Brookover pressed Apostle about the reasoning behind the resolution.

“Is it still your feeling that there’s a goal in mind to help restaurants struggling with occupancy limits steaming from the pandemic by allowing them to expand outdoor seating capacity?” asked Brookover.

“I don’t know if I can speak for all of the staff on that. However, I do think it needs to be a priority to support businesses because I do know many businesses are still struggling because of the ripple effect of the pandemic to this day,” said Apostle 

Councilmember Noel Garcia, Jr. who was appointed as a new councilmember earlier this year voiced his concern about public safety. 

“I saw pictures of downtown East Lansing during St. Patrick’s Day and it was elbow to elbow out there. And now we’ve got outdoor seating, tables, chairs. If things go wrong or bad. I just hate to be that “what if guy” but I did that for 25 years and I’m sitting here because of that,” said Garcia. “That concerns me a little bit.” Garcia is a former Lansing police department lieutenant who served for 25 years before his retirement. 

Gregg said   , “The bar lines, I think, are a totally different problem, and it is a problem which we haven’t really had a great success in addressing,” said Greg. “I would be sad to see this fail just on fear of the problem that has existed in East Lansing for many many years.”

Mayor Ron Bacon moved to adopt the resolution, which Gregg seconded.

“I guess I’ll state my personal preference that this be the last time we see this as a temporary resolution and that this would be really nice to codify since it does seem like this is something that we are wanting to make permanent,” said Gregg. 

Council member Dana Watson touched on Garcia’s point about public safety. 

“ELPD has talked about a shift at certain times in crowds…so I hear what you’re saying,” said Watson. “Sometimes it’s a concern, but then during other times, it’s not a concern. It’s a lot of fun to be out there. It’s a family environment, but then, like I said, they had pointed out there is a shift at certain times so we should definitely keep that in mind and support the ELPD.”

Bacon said, “Coming forward we’ve had some preliminary conversations with hospitality, with the city manager, with Matt’s team, law enforcement and fire. Everything will be in consideration to this point obviously, just to make sure that public safety is being paramount in those conversations.”

Mayor bacon, Mayor Pro Tem Gregg, and councilmember Watson voted in favor. Garcia and Brookover opposed.  

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