Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Planning Commission recommends outdoor seating


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Ironwood — Downtown Ironwood bars and restaurants may soon use more outdoor room for customers amidst the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

During its virtual meeting Thursday the city of Ironwood Planning Commission 5-0 recommended that the city commission approve an outdoor seating policy for businesses. Members Nancy Korpela and Mark Silver were not present. City commissioner Joseph Cayer was present as a non-voting ex-officio member.

“As businesses open up again we are trying to create some flexibility with scenarios that allow them to spread people around a little bit more, especially downtown businesses, restaurants and bars,” said Tom Bergman, community development director for the city of Ironwood.

The idea is to allow businesses to use a private lot or other area of the property for outdoor seating. The ordinance doesn’t address this and would just clarify how and where a business could use the public right-of-way for tables or other activity such as on a city sidewalk when it doesn’t hinder pedestrian or vehicular traffic.

“It’s nice to have people out in open air environments,” Bergman said. “This would be creating a policy to allow it.”

The topic was discussed during a Thursday webinar with the Michigan Municipal League, he said. The Michigan Liquor Control Commission is making an effort to streamline the rules for liquor licenses and specifically for outdoor seating because of the COVID-19 situation, he said. 

Bergman is including the topic as an agenda item on the Monday city commission meeting. The planning commission action is a recommendation for the city commission to adopt this policy.

“I see no problem with it,” said Sam Davey, planning commission chair.

The remainder of the meeting was an update and discussion of the work to revise the zoning ordinance and adult use marijuana establishments ordinance. A community advisory committee and legal counsel produced a draft ordinance that the planning commission recommended in February as the ordinance to use should the city commission approve adult use commercial establishments.

The ordinance failed three separate city commission votes at its March meeting. The commissioners were split on issues of increasing the buffer zones where marijuana establishments are not allowed, micro-licenses related to edible marijuana product testing and certification as food products, and finally the number of retail growers and processors allowed in the ordinance.

The substantial changes required the ordinance to be sent back to the planning commission for a more comprehensive revision. Bergman said that the COVID-19 pandemic has somewhat slowed the process but that it was more about interpreting the Michigan Supreme Court ruling in April that found a town did not violate marijuana caregiver protections with its zoning restrictions.

“We are trying to figure out with the existing zoning ordinance do we have the authority to say where agricultural uses are not allowed in the C2 district, and then do we have the zoning authority to move all caregiver based growing operations out of the C2 district?” Bergman said. “If that suffices as a zoning regulation it would be enforceable in terms of caregivers being seen as a commercial agriculture use and we are getting guidance from the city attorney on that.”

The city is exploring three areas with which to re-draft its ordinance with the new understanding, he said. There are questions about whether the ruling would also apply to residential areas where agricultural uses are not allowed as a way to start enforcing where caregiver operations are taking place.

“We are continuing to look into that because there will be legal challenges when the city starts to enforce the zoning authority,” Bergman said.

The second part is making sure that the ordinance language continues to give enforcement authority. The current proposed language designates the industrial zone as the only area where caregivers are able to operate.

“I think that is probably something worth a bigger discussion with the planning commission as well as the city commission at some point when we start discussing the details of the zoning ordinance,” he said. “Is that too restrictive? Is that not restrictive enough? Since there is not a lot of industrial zone property in the city what does that mean for us in terms of how we’re handling the caregivers in the area?”

The third part is drafting nuisance language, which is a non-zoning police power, but helps facilitate the process for the department of public safety regarding odor issues, especially in residential areas. 

“So that affects all aspects of marijuana and not only the caregiver law but potentially the adult use marijuana issues as well in the residential areas,” Bergman said.

Stephanie Holloway, planning commission member, asked if caregivers are now essentially operating as dispensaries.

Bergman said there is not a lot of evidence to say but that statewide figures show the number of card holding medical marijuana patients has declined since the adult use regulations do not require them. At the same time the number of caregiver operations have not declined, he said.

“There are probably way more caregivers in the area that are able to supply than there are card holding patients who need it,” Bergman said. 

As more adult use commercial facilities come on line it is expected that the trend of declining medical use permits will also decline which should also correspond to the caregiver operations.

“The number one complaint about marijuana in town is the smell,” said Sam Davey, planning commission chair. “It doesn’t matter where it’s grown if you can’t smell it. Hopefully we will go forward to a better place. We did not have the tools before and our hands were tied.”