According to a recent article in the Charlotte Observer, the City of Charlotte Zoning Office still plans to review and modify existing laws concerning restaurants and bars. Read the article here.
This review comes amid loud and continuous protests by local restaurant and small business owners. The owners, staff, and community members expressed concerns at the last public meeting of the zoning board in December. The loudest opposition concerned zoning staff recommendations to ban all “entertainment” at restaurants within 400 feet of a residentially zoned area. This would ban all inside and outside activities such as karaoke, pool tables, live music, even televisions in some cases. There is also discussion to ban such activity in these restaurants after a set time. Zoning staff proposed an initial time of 10:00 PM, which garnered severe outcry by community members attending public meetings on the matter.
The City Council website provides more information on the proposed changes.
City zoning staffers, dubbed “The Fun Police” by the opposition, expressed concern that the existing zoning designations for bars and restaurants are out-dated. Modern urban living often includes restaurants, shops, and local businesses all within a short walkable distance of residential housing. Many of the restaurants that would be affected by the proposed changes are along commercial corridors of NoDa, Plaza Midwood, Elizabeth, Monford, and South End and are often right next to residential housing. These neighborhoods boast about their vibrant city life and are often popular because of the proximity to local shops and eateries.
But with dense urban commerce come sometimes real but often only perceived problems of noise, trash, and crime. Noise problems seem to be the particular complaint for many of the targeted restaurants. The City has tried to address this concern through an updated noise ordinance, but municipalities can quickly run afoul of 1st Amendment protections. According to the above website, the City is still considering changes to its newly amended noise ordinance.
Zoning questions, on the other hand, are considered presumptively valid in North Carolina and courts will rarely overturn zoning decisions but for a few instances of procedural missteps or flagrant abuse by local legislators.
It remains to be seen how Charlotte will handle the growth of nightlife hot-spots, address concerns from complaining neighbors, and still navigate the troubling waters of constitutional protections for individuals and their businesses. For more information on the group opposing the new measures, see recent Creative Loafing article.
– By: Charlie Schmidt