Late-night noise and games get scrutiny
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Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012

Late-night noise and games get scrutiny

Zoning officials work on clarifying the line between restaurants and nightclubs

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department wants to better define what types of games, music and other social entertainment are allowed inside those places - as well as hours when such activities are allowed - especially when those businesses are close to residential areas.

Talk of putting limits on entertainment inside restaurants after midnight is disturbing for Robert Nixon, because his restaurant is close to homes and other residences in the Elizabeth neighborhood.

He figures Jackalope Jacks could lose $4,000 over Friday and Saturday nights if he had to turn off the music and games at midnight.

He would have to cut at least five people from his staff to account for the losses, Nixon said. He'd rather keep the jukebox, karaoke and electronic games going until closing at 2:30 a.m.

"Music and social entertainment is the character of many restaurants," Nixon said, sitting in a room with a pool table and electronic games. "I don't understand why we have to change."

No one has decided yet whether restaurants in residential areas have to change the entertainment they offer, but the Planning Department wants to determine whether the existing rules are working.

Rules went to effect in the 1980s that require separation between nightclubs and bars and residential areas, said Katrina Young, a zoning administrator. The distance required can vary by location.

The separation isn't required in areas where shops, restaurants and residences are part of the same mixed-use development.

The ordinance classifies businesses that serve food and alcohol as restaurants. Businesses that offer alcohol and entertainment and sometimes food are nightclubs and lounges, according to the ordinance.

The difference isn't always so clear, Young said.

"Now restaurants want to provide entertainment, too," she said. "That is why it is time to review" the rules.

One other reason for a review is that some of the hybrid restaurants - or maybe they are hybrid bars - have been tagged with citations for offering entertainment and don't have the required distance from residential areas.

"If you have a live band inside or outside or other things you would find at a nightclub, you would be cited," Young said.

Nixon and many other restaurant owners are protesting new restrictions for restaurants because the city is also drafting new rules to limit noise from bands and other entertainment outside restaurants and bars near residential areas.

To go after entertainment inside those same businesses would make it harder to keep customers coming back, Nixon said.

"Why are we trying to hurt revenue-producing assets of the city and the state?" Nixon said "Ninety-five percent of us haven't had any problems."

Nixon served on citizen advisory committee last year that gave input to the Planning Department as it began reviewing rules for restaurants and nightclubs.

Ultimately, he and others started a Facebook page called "Charlotte Says NO To Amend Chapter 15."

Nixon also posted a petition at www.change.org. Nearly 100 people have signed.

The citizen advisory group's meetings have been suspended until the Charlotte City Council finishes its work on the noise ordinance, Young said.

"We need to figure out what kind of music can be close to residential and what needs to be father away," Young said. "We're just getting started. We've got a long way to go."

Sullivan: 704-517-4524

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