Drinks ok outside, just don’t cross M-24
By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
Adults 21 and over will soon be allowed to carry alcoholic beverages they purchase from bars or restaurants downtown and consume those beverages in public common areas. Oxford Village Council approved a resolution to designate social districts downtown in a 5-0 vote at the April 13 meeting. The social district hours will be 12 p.m. to 12 a.m., seven days a week.
“I think this is really good given the pandemic especially,” said Village President Kelsey Cooke, “because people can still frequent the bars and restaurants, they can get a drink, space out, walk around outside.”
A new law, Michigan Public Act 124 of 2020, allows local governments to designate social districts with common areas. Since social districts cannot cross a state highway, Oxford will have two districts: a west district and an east district, with M-24 running through the middle. Collectively, they are called the Downtown Oxford Social District.
Patrons can move north and south of East Burdick and West Burdick, but cannot cross M-24. “If you purchase a beverage in the east social district you have to stay in the east side, same thing with the west side,” Cooke explained.
Roughly, the district common areas follow the sidewalks in a perimeter around each of the four historic building blocks cornering the Burdick/M-24 intersection. The common areas do not include the parking lots or Centennial Park.
“The west social district would be around the outside of the park,” Cooke said. “There would be signs set up designating the social district areas. So, if people want to enjoy the Thursday night concerts in the park they could stand outside of the park and still hear the music with the drink, but they couldn’t go sit inside the park. We heard that was important to our residents and so we kept the park out of it.”
Businesses can’t serve alcohol outside in the common areas. Patrons still have to go inside to order. “Some of these places have outdoor serving areas already in place,” Village Manager Joe Madore pointed out, “so that’s covered still, but you can’t go out into the parking lot and serve drinks. If they already have an established outside dining area with alcohol service, that doesn’t change.”
Cups must have a logo of the social district as well as a logo of the bar it was purchased from. Patrons can’t walk into a bar with a drink from another bar. It has to be consumed in the common areas.
Before the social district can take effect, the village needs to apply for a permit from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission. Each business that wants to participate must also apply for a permit.
DDA Executive Director Kelly Westbrook said the DDA would help businesses pay permit fees, which are roughly $300 a year, with leftover grant money from Oakland County. “We gave out our first grants for our restaurants,” she said, “and knowing that this was coming down the pipeline, we were able to hold some of that back, so it will only be about $60 for each of the restaurants to apply, so we will be able to really help them out with this cost.”
Westbrook said she doesn’t know of any business that is opposed to the social district. “Every business that I spoke to, they were very excited about it and all for it. I have not gotten any pushback. The only pushback that I heard was some people were worried about it in the park, and that’s why we kept it out.”
She noted that the social district will be especially helpful for the smaller restaurants that, because of the 50 percent Covid capacity restrictions, have extremely limited space for indoors seating. “I think with Covid in Michigan and right now what we’re looking towards, I think that this is really going to help the bars and restaurants, especially in the summer months when people want to be out and about.”
President Cooke described how the social district could help retail downtown, even though folks won’t be allowed to go inside shops with their beverages. “You’ll have a lot more exposure from people walking around outside between the restaurants and in these common areas, so they can see the different types of retail businesses that are available, and window shop or at least become familiar with the names of some of them and think to go in.”
The DDA will maintain the social district with the assistance of the village department of public works. During regular patrols, Village of Oxford Police Department will monitor the social district for compliance with MLCC and village laws and regulations. All users of the social district must follow state and county Covid requirements related to social distancing and face masks.