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Norfolk City Council passes controversial new rule for restaurant owners

A controversial new measure for future restaurant owners, regarding alcohol sales, has passed in Norfolk Tuesday night.

NORFOLK, Va. — A controversial new measure for future restaurant owners, regarding alcohol sales, has passed in the City of Norfolk.

During a lengthy council meeting Tuesday night, city council members voted 7-to-1 to approve an amendment to zoning regulations. That measure, as well as other proposals, were met with hours of public input.

Norfolk council members slashed some portions of the docket, including a proposed two-year limit on conditional use permits, as well as a re-evaluation of the definition of 'DJ" and "entertainment."

During Tuesday night's work session, City Manager Dr. Chip Filer said it's "to be determined" when those items come up for further discussion. 

Even so, dozens of people — including business owners, musicians, DJs, entertainers and citizens — spoke up inside council chambers. 

Some pleaded for more transparency and stronger communication. 

"No one talked to us, no one asked our opinion. No one had a meeting and said, 'Let's talk about this before we make these drastic changes in the city,'" one woman said. 

Another woman said: "It seems like it has been affecting either Black businesses or businesses that cater to the Black culture."

RELATED: Norfolk revokes restaurant license from Culture Lounge & Restaurant

One speaker suggested things be handled on a case-by-case by basis.

"If there is a problem with anything that has to do with music, alcohol or whatever the case may be, then that should be something that's on the basis of that establishment and shouldn't be blanketed across everyone else."

However, following a 7-to-1 vote, council will now require any new restaurant owners citywide to undergo a conditional use permit process if they want to sell alcohol for customers to drink at their business. 

"The use of CUPs will be detrimental to financial situations," one speaker pointed out. 

An entrepreneur added the following: "It's going to continue to keep us in the same box of businesses we already have in this area."

During a virtual session with constituents Monday night, Councilmember Andria McClellan explained that the CUP process for a new restaurant will take about three months and north of $1,000.

RELATED: Fifteen people have been shot this year in Downtown Norfolk

Leaders in Norfolk are implementing the rule for new restaurants, in part, to improve safety. The move comes as the city grapples with a rise in gun violence, especially in the downtown area. 

"Addressing nightlife, CUPs, entertainment or DJs, whether it's now or later, will have virtually zero impact in lowering gun violence in the city," one speaker told council. 

Additionally, McClellan explained in her virtual meeting that the city previously required any restaurant selling alcohol to apply for a conditional use permit. However, it's a practice the city did away with it in 2018.

"We loosened out the restrictions to the restaurants on the alcohol. Now, we're bringing that back in, because what we lost was the ability to have the oversight through the CUP process," McClellan said via Zoom Monday night.

RELATED: Norfolk city leaders investing in new 'Safe Night' crime fighting project

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