December 20, 2012The Greensboro City Council's Entertainment Facility Use Ordinance Review Committee looking at a nightclub ordinance is further away from presenting one than they were before their Thursday, Dec. 13 meeting, according to committee chair Councilmember Zack Matheny.
The committee, which includes Councilmembers Marikay Abuzuaiter and Jim Kee, heard representatives from the Greensboro Police Department and the Planning and Community Development Department respond to the questions raised by councilmembers, club owners and others at a previous meeting on Nov. 29.
The ordinance, if passed, would become part of the zoning code, and sets minimum security requirements for certain types of entertainment facilities in order for them to keep their privilege licenses.
Most dance clubs and clubs providing live entertainment and operating after 9 p.m. with occupancy of 150 or more and strip clubs regardless of occupancy would have to comply. Even clubs that cater to those younger than 21 would have to comply.
"I will tell you today I've got some concerns greater than I had before. I think we are farther away than I probably realized," Matheny said at the end of the Dec. 13 meeting.
Matheny said that the city would continue to have crime problems, but that he did not want to pass legislation so "reactive" that would be harmful to everyone.
Abuzuaiter said she still had questions about the proposed ordinance she had hoped to get answered. "I think it's really, really complicated," she said.
Police Attorney Jim Clark discussed a list of questions and answers that staff had assembled.
One of the questions was why some facilities, including Club Fifth Season and the Elk Lodge, had been dropped from an earlier list of places governed by the ordinance.
Clark said that when the ordinance was refined, it became apparent that some facilities effected were not the kind of facilities that they had in mind.
"The answer to that is that when the Entertainment Facility Ordinance was first drafted, it was drafted with the idea of a particular category of business uses or zoning uses in mind," said Clark.
The question and answer document says, "The Fifth Seasons also differs from a typical nightclub in that it is an accessory use to the hotel."
Clark also said that some businesses are exempt because the definitions in the zoning ordinance are intended to limit the effect of the ordinance to as few businesses as possible.
Another question was why the city shouldn't just use the nuisance abatement procedures to address the club problems.
Clark said that statute only applied to clubs with problems that are so serious that the only solution would be to shut them down. He said judges are hesitant to take such drastic action, and putting people out of business was not the intention of the ordinance.
He said the clubs this ordinance is meant to target have crime that is "episodic" in nature rather than chronic and can be remedied with already existing processes and penalties defined in the zoning ordinance, like civil fines or license revocation.
Matheny said he had difficulty with that explanation, since it didn't seem like the proposed ordinance would be much faster or more effective than the existing processes.
Under the proposed entertainment ordinance, violations would go before the Board of Adjustment, and club owners who lost before the Board of Adjustment could appeal the decision to North Carolina Superior Court. Meanwhile the club could continue to operate, as they can during nuisance abatement proceedings.
In response to a question raised at a previous meeting as to whether calls for service triggered enforcement of the ordinance, thus incentivizing club operators not to call the police in the event of a crime, Clark said they did not.
Clark said only failure to meet the minimum requirements of the ordinance, which involve hiring a minimum number of security guards based on crowd size, would count as a violation.
According to the proposed ordinance, the police would review the security plans of the clubs, and if a violation is found the owner would be notified through the Planning and Community Development Department.
Several people were allowed to speak toward the end of the meeting.
Amiel Rossabi, an attorney who represents several clubs owned by Rocky Scarfone, said he had more issues with the law then his three minutes would allow him to mention.
He said that the ordinance targeted too many facilities in its attempt to regulate the handful of clubs causing problems, which, he said, is the opposite of how legislation should be written. "The idea is you've got to let some guilty parties out to let innocent businesses thrive," he said.
Thurston Reeder, owner of Thirsty's 2, expressed frustration that his club, which caters to an older crowd and has almost no criminal history, was still covered by the proposed ordinance while clubs like Club Fifth Season had been dropped off.
Eric Robert commented, "We all know why that club is exempt because we all know who it belongs to." Club Fifth Season is owned by the Koury Corporation.
Katei Cranford, a self-described advocate for the "creative culture," said that businesses already work to ensure safe environments and that the ordinance would burden clubs that didn't contribute to the crime the Police Department is concerned about.
Cranford said she felt "people don't feel safe in this town because you tell them they're not." She said that people who stay away from sexually oriented businesses were unlikely to see much crime.
The next meeting of the committee is scheduled for 10:30 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 10 in the council chambers at city hall.