Judge nixes restaurant for Corktown fire station

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

A Detroit restaurateur lost an appeal in civil court Wednesday in its bid to turn a former fire station in Corktown into a restaurant.

The building’s owner, Byzantine Holdings LLC, had hoped Judge Sheila Gibson of Wayne County Circuit Court would reverse the city Board of Zoning Appeals’ denial of its request to change 1201 Bagley from non-conforming office space to non-conforming restaurant with a Class C liquor license.

Exterior of the fire station at 1201 Bagley St. Detroit's Corktown neighborhood.

Gibson said the company failed to prove that a restaurant would be "less injurious to the surrounding area" than the building's previous use, based on zoning ordinance.

“In this case the burden of proof does rest with the petitioner,” Gibson said. “The petitioner has to articulate why the BZA should deviate from the existing use. What we have here is a situation where the opposition was very strong and there wasn’t a good deal of information to support why the BZA should deviate.”

In July, in a 4-to-2 vote, the BZA denied a request from the owners of the 7,816-square-foot building to change the from non-conforming office space to non-conforming restaurant with a Class C liquor license. The request included four residential units on the second and third floors.

The board's decision was made in part due to strong opposition from nearby residents concerned about potential parking issues, noise and fumes.

The former fire station, known as Engine Company No. 8, was open from 1918 to 1982. It most recently housed a small law firm, Gregory Reed and Associates. Residents in the neighborhood favored of that change in use in the mid-1980s to prevent the building from becoming blighted.

Attorney Bill Burdette, representing the building's owner, attempted to poke holes in the BZA’s decision with numerous arguments, including that the potential effects on property values weren’t outlined and that the neighborhood is not zoned only residential. He argued in court that if the building were returned to use as an office, it could hold 60-70 people.

“This is one of those instances where the owners of the building could say if we can't do the project we want, they'll look back and say we've got this option to use it as an office building," he said. "We'll continue to use it as an office building ..."

Attorney Sheri Whyte, who represented the city, said that an office building is fundamentally different than a restaurant as the latter primarily operates during evenings and weekends. 

Jon Strand, who for 21 years has lived in the Sixth Street Lofts, 12 feet from the old fire station, said he was pleased with the judge's decision. 

“That is a very quiet section of a very fragile neighborhood,” Strand said. “I actually think justice was served today.”

Byzantine Holdings LLC is managed by Christos Moisides, whose relatives own London Chop House. Brian Ellison of Intersection Consulting Group, which represents the company, was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.

Strand said he would support the building serving as office space once again. 

“I’m fine with that,” he said. “I think that the thought about an 80-seat restaurant … I don’t think so. All I could think of is the noise, the kitchen staff smoking underneath my bedroom and all the exhaust fans and everything.”


Twitter: @CWilliams_DN