Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lake Worth bar loses its bid for nightclub status - "Mojito's"

This is a re-cap of the three hour ordeal from last night's City Commission meeting. Click title for link to PB Post article. Even though her name is not mentioned in the article, Commissioner Golden was the one that really led the attack. Commissioner Jennings came in at the end to make the motion to deny the request, which Commissioner Golden seconded.

What did I take away from the exhausting process? The first thing is that our planning/zoning/legal staff needs to up their game in a big way. I was surprised to see the Commission go through the important process of declaring "ex-parte" communication - stating who they had talked to and saying that regardless, their decision would be made based upon the evidence presented at the hearing. That was the good part, but it deteriorated from there. Staff seemed ill-prepared with facts and the basis for their recommendation and apparently reversed their previous recommendation of approval made before the Planning Board meeting. The Planning Board voted 4-3 to deny the distance waiver request. In most all localities, staff usually maintains their original recommendation and forwards it with the recommendation from the Planning Board. In my opinion, the basis for staff's denial was based on their perception that there were three independent businesses there, but they happened to all be operating under the same license. Staff had little detail as to the number of uses the distance waiver should apply to within the 900 ft. radius requirement and wasn't sure about the length of a city block in this area. It also became apparent that staff had not gone to the building as it was a surprise to them that there was a second story. Staff also wasn't sure about all the other 5 a.m. establishments in the city and was very sketchy on the details related to Sneakers' nightclub approval at 4th and N. Dixie.

There was a compromise on the table that would have allowed them to stay open to 3 or 4 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, but the acting city attorney said that if the Commission found in favor of the nightclub request, the closing time would have to be 5 a.m. I didn't agree with this interpretation of law, but that was the advice given to the Commission.

Granted, the facts were murky on this application. I remember singing karaoke at this location when it was "RVs" and I remember them saying that they had an "after hours" license. This particular business was doing things responsibly, from all accounts. And there was a lot of public comment pro and con. Of course our code language was tricky and needs an overhaul anyway - but the time to do that was not last night. Which again shows the importance of keeping your code up-to-date but to do that you need a competent staff with time to do that. There is also a concentration of bars in our downtown, but this one is one of the oldest and came before the things that were around it.

Had I been up there, I would have probably pushed for the compromise. Instead, we are sending a message that it is difficult to do business in Lake Worth and a portion of our downtown working population won't have a place to go after their late shift.

Comments like these were not helpful and paint a broad brush over bar patrons' supposed habits. This was made at the Planning Board meeting. There were others equal or worse than this made at the podium last night.

I do agree with the need to make a presentation to the neighborhood association before going through the process.

This was a tough one that would have been less difficult with a more able and prepared Planning and Zoning staff. It may result in other lawsuit against the city due to the favorable record created by the applicant.

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