Woodland denies gaming permit

Published 9:22 am Tuesday, May 29, 2012

WOODLAND – The Woodland Board of Adjustments denied an application for a conditional use permit to open an electronic gaming operation at the Woodland Restaurant & Lounge located at 106 E. Main Street.

On Thursday evening a quasi-judicial public hearing was held for the matter during which citizens and business owners voiced concerns over parking and safety issues.

Rosita and Ken Guynn, who currently operate the Woodland Restaurant & Lounge as an eatery and bar that also features bands, said the electronic gaming operation would provide for additional revenue for their already existing business.

“I know there are several concerns, the primary which is probably parking,” said Mr. Guynn during the public hearing.

He explained he could reduce or eliminate those concerns by continuing to use a large parking lot located at the rear of the building and make the primary entrance to the gaming portion of the business at the back as well.

He explained Woodland Restaurant and Lounge is comprised of three separate addresses (102, 104 and 106 East Main St.), and the 102 portion of the building would best provide for a rear entrance to the gaming establishment. Guynn said they would like to post a sign, after gaining the landowner’s permission, directing customers to the back.

He said the number of computers would be somewhere under 25 machines.

Guynn said the Internet cafe would, if possible, keep the same hours as the restaurant and lounge (11 a.m.-2:30 a.m.), but he said those hours are flexible as to when the gaming establishment can be open.

He estimated the business would serve approximate 100 people in eight hours.

He said the business would be closed on Sunday and the business’s parking spaces would be offered to the local church, the Woodland Supermarket and the Grapevine Cafe.

“My wife and I have frequented numerous Internet cafes in Rich Square, Ahoskie, Roanoke Rapids, Rocky Mount, Merry Hill, Florida and Virginia,” said Mr. Guynn. “We’ve only seen one minor altercation and have witnessed no loitering, gang activity, or anything inappropriate. I would further say the average age seeking enjoyment and relaxation from Internet cafes would be an excess of 40.”

He added many of his customers have inquired about Internet cafes and expressed interest to go to one.

“This would put one in a business that they already attend,” he said.

Guynn noted the establishment would abide by any state and local guidelines, and his business already contributes to the town of Woodland by way of dance permits, privilege tax and personal property taxes.

He added the addition of an Internet cafe would required the business to add one additional full time employee “and possibly more.” Construction to the facility would also need to be done, putting others to work through minor construction.

Woodland Zoning Administrator Lloyd Lee Wilson asked Guynn if he owns the parking lot at the back of the building.

“I do not, but I’ve got conditional use of it now and will remain to have conditional use of it,” Guynn said.

Wilson said the zoning ordinance requires that Guynn own the property.

“I made a mistake back then, and I shouldn’t have approved that (conditional use), but that’s up to the board to deal with tonight,” said Wilson.

Wilson said there were two sets of conditions required for the matter, one is the conditional use permit itself.

“The use of an electronic gaming operation must be listed among the conditional uses for the district for which the application is made, it must be essential or desirable to the public convenience or welfare, the operator must show that it will not impair the integrity or character of the surrounding districts, will not be detrimental to health, morals or welfare,” he said.

Wilson continued by saying it will minimize any negative impacts on any transportation systems, schools, recreational areas and natural resources; adequately served by utilities, access roads, drainage, sanitation and other necessary facilities and will have ingress and egress to minimize traffic congestion in the streets.

“Secondly, for a business to operate in the commercial zoning district, there is a requirement that there be one off street parking space for each 200 square foot gross floor area,” he said. “The applicant will have to demonstrate they provide that or ask the board to reduce that requirement. The ordinance already allows the Board of Adjustment to reduce the number of parking spaces if it thinks it is of the best interest.”

During his presentation, Wilson gave the Board copies of responses submitted by department heads (Public Works Director Robbie Collier, Police Chief Jesse Stevens and Attorney Charles Vaughan) as required.

Collier did not expect any problems with the existing utilities as long as there were no plans for expansion, but was concern about ingress, egress, traffic and parking issues. Stevens said historically, Internet cafes in the area are peaceful gatherings, but parking is a safety issue. He added parking in the downtown area is not sufficient to accommodate Internet cafe customers.

Vaughan said he felt the application did not satisfy the conditional use findings.

Wilson said the application does meet conditional use permit, but is not essential to the public welfare “because gambling itself is not an essential activity.”

He added there are Internet cafes already operating in Rich Square, Ahoskie, Roanoke Rapids, Rocky Mount and other areas. He also referred to the NC Educational Lottery, which already offers residents a chance to gamble at local retailers while helping the educational system.

“My argument is that it would impair the character of the small town of Woodland to have this type of operation, and it would be detrimental to health, morals and welfare,” he said. “Money spent here would be money not spent on the pay out received from the North Carolina Educational Lottery.”

During his presentation Wilson presented the board with several pieces of evidence.

Wilson also took issue with the ingress and egress as parking is limited in the 100-108 East Main Street area and it empties directly onto US 258.

He noted the congestion that often occurs with cars pulling out onto the street and others waiting for a parking space.

Wilson said the business also cannot provide enough parking spaces as set by the ordinance.

The board also heard from the public who voiced concerns over parking and safety.

Randy Beale noted the church across from the business is for sale and due to a zoning issue after the congregation moves to a new building, another church would not be able to take its place.

Beale said he was concerned with the parking issue and the drinking.

“It would seem there would be a little bit of a problem if they’re gambling and drinking on top of it,” he said.

He added he was concerned with the “type” if people coming into the area with the establishment.

Shannon Beale said she is concerned with safety issues as she gets home late at night.

“I already have problems with people wandering,” she said.

She questioned if the establishment would have security on its staff.

Guynn said there were no plans for additional security, but he’s had more than 100 people at his business for a band.

Penny Beasley, who operates the Woodland Supermarket, voiced a concern about her delivery trucks being able to pull around in the back parking lot.

She said currently there is no problem currently because most of Woodland Restaurant and Lounge’s business occurs in the evening when her business is closed, but the gaming business would interfere with daytime deliveries.

“I have trucks in and out, sometimes the trucks need to pull over and wait for another truck,” she said.

Guynn noted he could be flexible with the hours to accommodate the deliveries.

During board discussion, Board member Corita Hall-Reynolds said all five conditions have not been met in reference to the ordinance.

Board Vice Chairperson Jane Mann said if the application did not meet all five conditions the permit should be denied.

“That would be my motion,” she said.

Reynolds offered a second and the motion passed without objection from the other board members, Stewart Beasley and Chairperson Cynthia Moore.

Wilson questioned which conditions the board decided the application did not meet.

Reynolds noted condition 2 (essential or desirable to the public convince or welfare) and condition 5 (will have ingress and egress designed to minimize traffic congestion in the streets).

With the Board of Adjustment’s decision, the Guynn’s do have a right to appeal in Superior Court.

On Friday in a telephone interview, Mrs. Guynn said she plans to take the matter to Superior Court.

“I’m not going to give up,” she said.