Farmington council approves social district ordinance

Farmington city council members have taken another step closer to establishing a downtown social district, where patrons can drink alcoholic beverages outside of bars and restaurants.

Officials approved a new ordinance on Monday; future action will include approving a resolution, district rules, and a map. With Riley Park as its center, the district would stretch from Sidecar Slider Bar on the eastern Downtown Development Authority (DDA) boundary to Loft Cigar Lounge on the west. It includes some sidewalks and alleys.

Allowed under a new state law, social districts make it easier for patrons to enjoy adult beverages while social distancing to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Downtown Farmington Social District
This revised map shows Downtown Farmington Social District boundaries, including the addition of alleys that frequently serve as walkways.

“We’ve had strong response from potential participants,” DDA Director Kate Knight said. “We’ve fielded some enthusiastic questions about it over the last few weeks.”

Since officials first discussed the measure, a connection was added north from MiMosa’s back patio door to Grand River, Knight said.

Mayor Pro Tem Joe LaRussa asked whether there would be a problem if someone took a cocktail from one establishment to another. Knight said that would up to the business owner, but she expected it would not be allowed.

LaRussa and council member Maria Taylor suggested a connection from MiMosa’s western entrance along Farmington Road to Grand River.

Knight said Basement Burger Bar, Farmington Brewing Company, Sidecar Slider Bar, and MiMosa are all waiting for the ordinance approval to file for required permits. As many as seven other establishments have expressed a strong interest, she added.

While he said he is supportive of a social district, council member Steven Schneemann shared concerns about its configuration, which would be difficult to mark off, about enforcement, and the potential for infringing on other private property owners’ rights.

“How do we properly sign and mark this?” he asked. “How do we do that without junking up our downtown… and without costing the DDA a fortune in purchasing signage?”

Public Safety Director Frank Demers said 17 communities have approved social districts, and of the police chiefs and public safety directors he consulted, none reported any problems. Port Huron has for years had a local ordinance that allows open containers along their shoreline.

“Their social district stretches for a mile,” he said, adding that while officers give the area special attention, no overtime is scheduled for enforcement. “They tend to get more of a chill crowd. This is not a raucous crowd that comes out drinking and looking for trouble.”

Demers added that chiefs considered signage key. The City of Adrian, which has had a social district in place for a week, painted the social district border on sidewalks and pavement.

“The chief loves it because there is no ambiguity,” he said. “You’re either inside the district or outside the district.”

In addition to being a boon for events, Knight said, the social district is expected to be important during the winter months. As patrons who were more comfortable dining outside turn to carryout, they’ll be able to enjoy a cocktail on the sidewalk while waiting for their orders.

Knight said professionals on the DDA Design Committee are excited to develop “thorough and tasteful signage” that is minimal, efficient, and adheres to downtown standards.

You’ll find the meeting agenda, supporting materials, and video at farmgov.com/City-Services/Government/Agendas-and-Minutes.aspx.

CorrectionCouncil member Steven Schneemann’s comment about the shape of the social district was incorrectly represented in the original version of this post. 

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