Alley Wine wins zoning ordinance change, moving forward and hoping for fall opening

Alley Wine sounded like such a lovely idea: open up a wine bar in an alley in a converted garage with doors that open to the alley and a backyard that can be used for outdoor seating and recreation. The idea sparked a lot of interest, securing it as a semi-finalist in the first-ever Hatch Detroit contest in 2011.
 
There was just one problem: the proposed building was zoned as residential property. Before any kind of planning in earnest could move forward, the building had to be re-zoned for commercial use (and as a liquor establishment at that, which is not without its own complications).
 
For the past 20 months, partners David Knapp and Lynne Savino have been working on getting this Midtown property at 655 W. Alexandrine re-zoned for commercial use by the city. "I knew we had a major roadblock with zoning issues," says Knapp, who works as an architect and is familiar with zoning restrictions.
 
They started with the Board of Zoning Appeals, which took several hearings over six months to ultimately have their request rejected. From there they went to the City Planning Commission, this time with the help and support of Midtown Inc.'s Sue Mosey. The Alley Wine concept happens to be in keeping with her master vision for more mixed-use development in Midtown, which also includes more non-motorized transit development (Alley Wine will be accessible only by foot or bike). "We were kind of a pilot case for the rezoning," says Knapp.
 
"Mosey and (Midtown Economic Development Manager) Karen Gage really spearheaded on our behalf to work with the City Planning Commission staff," says Knapp. They conducted informal hearings to garner public support and drew up the official language to push the request forward. The request was first approved by the commission, then by City Council, then by Mayor Dave Bing.
 
While Alley Wine is still a way off from opening -- they still need to secure tax credits and building permits and apply for financing and a liquor license, none of which could be started before the rezoning was finalized -- Knapp hopes for a fall opening.
 
Source: David Knapp, co-owner of Alley Wine
Writer: Nicole Rupersburg

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Nicole Rupersburg is a former Detroiter now in Las Vegas who regularly writes about food, drink, and urban innovators. You can follow her on Instagram @eatsdrinksandleaves and Twitter @ruperstarski.