It's been a frustrating year for some city and county officials, restaurateurs and bar owners. Meetings between them to produce new zoning ordinances seemed to be going nowhere. This week, however, those ordinances finally began to take shape.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department revealed its proposal to a group of mostly bar owners and restaurateurs at a meeting on Thursday. If passed as they were proposed, the changes would heavily affect any establishments with outdoor patios that are close to residential neighborhoods.
Here are some key points to the department's proposal:
-All restaurants, bars and nightclubs fall under the term "eating, drinking and entertainment establishments." They are, however, divided into two categories: Type 1 and Type 2. The former serve food and beverages but not alcohol and include anything from Cook Out and Wendy's to Panera Bread and Bob Evans. The ordinances wouldn't affect them. The latter serve alcohol and therefore would be subject to the ordinances.
-Any Type 2 establishment serving food and/or alcohol outdoors past 11 p.m. would need to be at least 100 feet away from any single-family zoning district, meaning a standalone house or a vacant lot. As opposed to the old ordinances, condominiums, apartment buildings and other "high-intensity" living quarters are not included in this rule.
-If an establishment does not meet that 100-foot separation requirement and wants to continue to serve past 11 p.m., it could utilize "buffers": trees or shrubs that must meet certain city requirements.
-Any establishment offering outdoor entertainment past 11 p.m. would need to be at least 400 feet from a home or lot and could not utilize buffers. Outdoor entertainment could include televisions, games, trivia and music.
-Space between businesses and homes would start at the end of the outdoor eating or entertainment area — usually a patio — and end at the property line of the nearest home.
While this proposal relaxes some of the old restrictions, such as a separation requirement from apartments and regulations on indoor entertainment, the fact that some restaurants and bars may have to shut their outdoor televisions off at 11 p.m. was enough to concern some business owners in the crowd.
"The neighborhood pub is like road kill in this process," said Jim Foster Jr., owner of Selwyn Avenue Pub, which seats many of its customers outdoors. "This is going to have a huge economic impact. If we had to shut down at 11 o'clock at night, we would go out of business."
Foster was told that as part of the Planning Department's research, a staffer had gone to his business and found it to be in compliance with the 400-foot rule, should it be enforced. Foster said he was skeptical the city wouldn't reverse that claim.
Another local bar owner, who didn't want to be named, said, "if they could bring that magic ruler over to my place too, I'd be happy to accept this thing right now."
Planning Department Director Debra Campbell asked Thursday's audience for suggestions to modify the proposal before it's presented to City Council in June. Attendees accepted most of it, but asked that televisions not be included in the definition of outdoor entertainment.
Campbell encouraged people to e-mail the Planning Department with more revisions before the next meeting, which is scheduled to take place on May 30. She said that date is liable to change and recommended checking the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department's website for updates.