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Zoning ordinances pass final milestone before City Council vote

New exemptions were added to the proposed ordinance

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After spending more than a year trying to mash out new zoning regulations for restaurants, bars and nightclubs, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department held its last meeting with a citizen advisory group Tuesday night, announcing it has created an amendment to the existing rules. City Council will debate and vote on the amendment in November.

During a citizen advisory meeting on May 30, the planning department announced it has redefined all of the aforementioned establishments as "eating, drinking and entertainment establishments." If a business serves alcohol, it falls into the category that must abide by the potential amendment, which includes keeping outdoor activity and entertainment a certain distance from single-family dwellings and vacant lots after 11 p.m.

A new development, which came from Tuesday night's meeting and is the only change to the proposed amendment since May 30, offers a few exemptions to the restrictions: Any establishment that runs up to a public right-of-way at least 60 feet wide — major roads in Charlotte such as Central Avenue, 7th Street and others where neighbors have complained about late-night activity — will be exempt from the zoning regulations.

Also, if a commercial building lies between a bar or restaurant and a single-family dwelling (otherwise known as a house), the establishment does not have to abide by a distance requirement. In other words, a bar can keep playing music past 11 p.m. if a commercial building is between it and a home. If passed, the ordinances will only affect future businesses and those currently in construction.

While the proposals presented on May 30 would have affected only 11 of the thousands of bars and restaurants in Charlotte, these exemptions would bring that number to only one, effectively grandfathering in almost all establishments that were operating at the beginning of this year.

That worried one member of the Elizabeth Community Association, who did not want to be named, because she knows of neighbors who are "up in arms" about some of the late-night activity going on at the bars and restaurants in their neighborhood. "This will put us right back to where we started years ago," she said.

But department director Debra Campbell and her staff have been attending neighborhood association meetings over the past few months and have found that an overwhelming number of residents are not concerned.

"A lot of people understand that their neighborhoods are evolving a bit, and we aren't going to take that away," Campbell said.

She and her staff will continue to reach out to neighborhood associations and citizens to educate them about the proposed ordinances. She has enlisted the Greater Charlotte Hospitality and Tourism Alliance to help educate its 800 members, many of whom are restaurant owners.

Alliance representative Courtney Graham attended Tuesday's meeting and said her group would start reaching out to members immediately. "We are here so we can educate our members on the changes that will be made and make sure it will benefit all of them."

For those still not happy with the proposed amendment, a hearing will be held before City Council on Oct. 21. The council will then vote on Nov. 18.

Two other issues settled on Tuesday night involved whether televisions would count as entertainment; the planning department decided they do, and therefore any outdoor TVs would have to be shut off at 11 p.m. at any establishment falling within the distance requirement. Also, in May some neighborhood leaders voiced concern over noise coming from within establishments — and argued those establishments should comply with noise ordinances. City planning, however, decided only outdoor entertainment will be policed by the proposed regulations.

Campbell emphasized the importance of communication and common sense moving forward.

"Both [residents and business] have a responsibility to co-exist. That's what this process is about," she said. "We need to get the word out that if you aren't a good neighbor you're going to get regulated out of this county."


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