Charlotte Working to Revise Zoning Definitions for Restaurants, Bars & Nightclubs

Did you know that, under Charlotte’s current regulations, a restaurant that does nothing more than provide live piano music for its guests could run afoul of its zoning provisions? Or that a restaurant owner who hires a balloon artist to entertain children during dinner could have his establishment classified as a nightclub?

With its vague definitions of restaurants and nightclubs, the City’s existing zoning code creates a great deal of confusion for owners and operators of dining establishments, as well as for the commercial brokers who need clarity to understand whether or not a particular use will be allowed on a client’s property. But an effort is underway to change that.

In Charlotte today, a restaurant is defined as, “An establishment designed, in whole or in part, to accommodate the consumption of food and/or beverages.”  The only other recognized use for a dining establishment is a nightclub, which is defined as, “Any commercial establishment serving alcoholic beverages and providing entertainment for patrons including bars, lounges and cabarets.” Nowhere in the current zoning ordinance is the word “entertainment” defined.

As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between restaurants, nightclubs and bars, and between 2010 and 2011, the city issued more than 29 notices of violation to establishments that failed to comply with their zoning conditions (most were for separation requirements). So in 2011, the City began the process of developing new definitions for restaurants, bars and nightclubs, to eliminate confusion and provide greater flexibility for property owners. The process was put on hold in 2012 while the Noise Ordinance was updated, and got underway again late last year.

The stakeholder group is currently considering whether to create a zoning definition for “entertainment,” which would more clearly define the difference between restaurants, nightclubs and bars. REBIC is concerned that this definition would be difficult to pin down, particularly in today’s fast-changing marketplace. Instead, we’re encouraging the City to focus its efforts on managing the external impacts of an establishment on any neighboring properties and addressing issues of nuisance, noise and separation. We believe a broad, flexible definition that allows restaurants to serve alcohol and provide various types of legal entertainment is the best approach, and we welcome any input from our broker and commercial developer members on this important subject.

Have you or one of your clients had issues with the City’s restaurant zoning laws? Please e-mail the details to [email protected]

For more information on the City’s Restaurant/Bar/Nightclub stakeholder group, click HERE.  The next Stakeholder Meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 5 at 6 p.m. at the Government Center. Anyone interested in the issue is encouraged to attend.

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