By Jessica Mathews/

The Howell City Council met virtually Monday night and approved some changes to a civic event policy to aid local businesses as they begin to re-open with new guidelines amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The City anticipates that there will be frequent requests from businesses to expand operations, outdoor dining and retail activities as well as other requests for “pop-up” type events. A memo states staff needs the ability to be able to review and approve the different items more quickly than the normal process allows for. The requests would not require closing down any major streets or require detours and involve little city resources. Things such as expanded outdoor seating, an impromptu sidewalk sale or other small events were mentioned. Staff recommended that Council authorize the City Manager to approve the different events – contingent upon review from the Police, Fire, Public Service and Community Development departments. As part of the changes, the requirement that all events be approved by Council is waived, although larger events would still come before Council for review and approval. The City Manager would have authority to approve expansion of outdoor dining for restaurants, including the use of public alleys for outdoor seating where appropriate. The manager would also issue letters of approval for any restaurants applying to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission for expanded service areas.

Mayor Nick Proctor stated they’re trying to be as flexible and nimble in approval as possible and shorten the typical time frame to facilitate businesses and other events. DDA Director Kate Litwin commented during the meeting that it’s not meant to be long term and gave the example of someone wanting to shut down an alley for a pop-up event such as a musician or story time given social distancing. Litwin said she’s talked to some businesses who would love to have additional outdoor space while others don’t want it because it just might not work logistically and people would have to walk through a kitchen. She said the changes just give flexibility and speed up the process.

Interim City Manager Erv Suida commented the policy allows for the same rigorous review and various requirements, such as making sure neighbors are aware of events. He said it just allows applicants to submit under a much smaller time frame and get approve internally so long as the impact isn’t large. Suida said they’re not talking about street closures or anything but have looked at the alleys and most can accommodate some outdoor seating without impacting any flow of traffic. Suida stated they haven’t had any specific requests but really just want to be ready to accommodate businesses as they come out of this extremely difficult time.

The modifications to the civic event policy will be in effect until October 31st. Suida noted that the City also intends to share information about all approved events with the public and is looking to create a separate Facebook page designed for those temporary events.

Meanwhile, City staff is working with the Howell Historic Movie Theater to allow a drive-in style theater for a 30-day period, which could be extendable based on review. Now that the policy changes have been approved, staff will finish that review and forward it along for approval.