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Woodland will permit Internet Cafes

WOODLAND — The town of Woodland has made their first step toward regulating electronic gaming establishments (Internet sweepstakes cafes).

Last Thursday, the Woodland Town Board of Commissioners voted 3-1 to allow Internet cafes in their commercial downtown district through issuing a special permit.

Commissioner Lloyd Lee Wilson, who also acts as the town’s zoning administrator, said over a year ago the commissioners asked the Woodland Planning Board to consider the question of allowing electronic gaming operations within the Woodland zoning area, including the town and the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ).

The Planning Board reported back and recommended that an entry be added to the definition section of the zoning ordinance to define an electronic gaming operation as “a place where a patron can use a computer with or without internet access, usually for a fee based on time of usage, to participate in games of chance or sweepstakes.” It also recommended that the category be added to the “Retail Sales/Services” section, indicating that these operations are not permitted in any zoning district in town or the ETJ, with by right or by conditional use permit.

“We’ve had an alternative recommendation from the Town Attorney (Charles Vaughan) that we add the definition, add the category to Retail Sales/Services, and then allow it in only one zoning district and that by, application for and receive, grant of a special permit,” Wilson said.

He added a public hearing was held on the topic just before the commissioner’s meeting and there were not many people in attendance.

Wilson said the two “most likely” districts would be the commercial downtown district (the block in between Mulberry Street and N. Sycamore as well as across from that block and  a section down Spruce Street) and the commercial highway district (a section near Loblolly Lane, a section near the Duck Thru, a section at the intersection of Yankee Lane and U.S. 258 and another section near Menola Road).

Wilson noted that parking was an issue brought up in the public hearing and parking in downtown Woodland is already limited.

Commissioner Jean Barnes voiced her concern on the parking issue.

“It seems like our other business owners would have a problem with that,” she said.

After further discussion, Wilson moved to add a definition to the zoning ordinance defining electronic gaming operations, that the table of uses by districts be amended to include electronic gaming operations and to allow the gaming operations in the commercial downtown district by permit.

Wilson added that by allowing the establishments in the commercial downtown district is not a blanket opening, rather a way the planning board can handle each applicant on a case by case basis.

Commissioner Joe Lassiter offered a second on Wilson’s motion.

Barnes said there would be some business owners disturbed by having the establishments in the commercial downtown.

Wilson said those that were concerned could attend the public hearing for the applicant’s request to voice their concerns.

After further discussion, the motion passed in a 3-1 vote with Barnes voicing opposition.