by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, May 2011) Testimony and lobbying by Cleveland residents is helping to shape new City of Cleveland legislation regulating the zoning and licensing of restaurants, bars and other entertainment related uses. Henry Senyak, a citizen representative on an Ad Hoc Committee set up by Cleveland City Council to recommend changes in the zoning and licensing of bars restaurants and other entertainment venues, urged residents concerned about the quality of life in their neighborhoods to testify at the Cleveland Planning Commission. He noted some areas of concern about the proposed legislation. Thirty residents from six Near West Side neighborhoods attended the April 1st Planning Commission meeting to express their views on legislation by Cleveland City Council proposing changes in the code governing bars, restaurants and entertainment venues. The Planning Commission is required by law to review the legislation before it goes back to Cleveland City Council for further review.
While residents attending the Planning Commission praised the effort of the City of Cleveland and the Ad Hoc Committee to update and streamline the zoning and licensing regulations, they expressed three major areas of concern. The areas of concern brought up by residents were: off street parking requirements, regulating or eliminating noise on outdoor patios, and making sure the code would allow residents maintain the opportunity to testify before the Board of Zoning Appeals about plans for new bars, restaurants or entertainment venues that could potentially impact the quality of life in their neighborhood.
Marianne Ludwig, Tremont resident and owner of Tremont Scoops, an ice cream shop, testified against a proposal to lower the number of parking spaces required for outdoor patios to one parking spot for every eight additional seats. She said it is rare to see cars with more than two people in them. She said on Saturdays when softball players come up from Clark Field to go to the local bars, they take up all the parking spaces within a six-block radius of her shop. Days when business should be good, her customers cannot find a parking spot. In addition, the foul language used by bar patrons going to their cars is inappropriate in the presence of children attending birthday parties at her shop.
Dr. Heinz Mikota, a dentist who lives next door to the 806 Martini & Wine Bar on Literary Road in the Tremont neighborhood, says he has been suffering from sleep deprivation on weekends since the bar opened nine years ago. Mikota said the 806 Martini & Wine Bar has three outdoor patios one on each side and one in the back. He says his life has dramatically been altered by the noise. He no longer has the energy for the volunteer work he used to do. He can hear music and screaming from patrons from his bedroom. He described one incident to the Planning Commission to give them an idea of what is happening just outside his home. He said he had placed a traffic cone in his driveway to prevent bar patrons from parking there. One night, about 2 a.m, a woman screaming outside his window woke him. He said she was laying on her back spread eagle in his driveway simulating sex with the traffic cone. He says calling the police has little impact, except that he will get call two hours later waking him up again to ask if there is still a problem. Dr. Mikota’s wife, Janet, testified that police rather than making sure the bar was in compliance with their permits, instead threatened to fine her and her husband for making excessive calls.
Ohio City residents Lucy Oliver and Julie Kurtock made a case against any outdoor entertainment on patios. They said that noise from the patio of The Harp could be heard five blocks away.
Pat Zolten of the Bridge Carroll Jay Block Club wanted to make sure that residents wouldn’t be deprived of the ability to go to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BOZA) to testify about entertainment venues bringing noise and parking problems to the neighborhood. She called for noise levels, outdoor music and parking requirement levels to be subject to conditional use permits. This would require that establishments go before the Board of Zoning Appeals to request any variation from the code.
Members of the Metro North Block Club submitted a letter to the Planning Commission asking continuation of the current practice in which “stakeholders in the community have the right to attend Board of Zoning Appeals hearings to support or oppose entertainment uses.” The block club opposed the City Council legislative change that “takes away distance requirements from residential areas for many entertainment establishments that currently operate in General Retail districts, allowing them to have live music, DJ’s and small dance floors without seeking a zoning variance to do so, even if they are within a few feet of homes.” The group also urged stricter parking requirements for businesses that expand their capacity with patio space.
Tremont resident Dean Malaker opposed a City Council amendment that indicated “a business would not have to get a variance from BOZA, or a special conditional use permit, if they wanted to have entertainment or sound devices on a patio. Now I have the right to attend BOZA hearings if a business makes a request for expansion of permitted use. If the amendment passes I will lose that right.”
Malaker also weighed in on the parking issue. He said, “Relaxing the off-street parking requirements would affect our neighborhood adversely.” He noted that the Tremont neighborhood had spent many hours straightening out its parking situation with leases and contracts among the various parties.
Linda Barley, a resident of the Stonebridge Apartments, spoke out against allowing amplified outdoor noise. She urged the city to not allow any entertainment venue within 100 feet of a residential structure and not to allow outdoor amplification within 1000 feet of a residential structure. She suggested that if the city decides to allow outdoor amplification, the hours should be restricted when would be permitted. She made a number of additional suggestions including that nightclubs be required to have additional parking spaces for their employees as well as the spaces required for patrons. In addition she made a case that the license fee for nightclubs was too low.
Planning Director Bob Brown indicated that licensing fees must be justified by the cost incurred by the city to enforce the law. Planning Commission Chair Anthony Coyne suggested that the city could craft an amendment to the legislation increasing the fees to nightclubs in order to cover the cost of hiring nighttime enforcement staff at the Building and Housing Department.
The Planning Commission let residents know they heard their concerns and asked Planning Director Bob Brown to incorporate their concerns into the draft of the legislation so the Planning Commission could review them at the next meeting.
At the April 15th meeting of the Planning Commission Ward 3 Councilman Joe Cimperman testified he was constantly getting complaints about outdoor music. He suggested that restricting the hours and not allowing music from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. and making outdoor music within 1,000 feet of a residence conditional. This would allow residents to weigh in at the Board of Zoning Appeals on a case-by-case basis, said Cimperman.
The Planning Commission was given a number of options to vote on at the April 15th meeting. In line with residents’ wishes, they voted to require the same parking ratio (1 spot for every four seats) for both indoor and outdoor seating. They deemed outdoor patios with entertainment or sound amplification a “conditional use” if located within 1,000 feet of a residence. They also restricted the hours of use of outdoor patios, regardless of whether or not they had music or sound amplification, requiring closing from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. They would allow establishments to apply for a variance which would allow opening patios until 1 a.m. Director Brown indicated that City of Cleveland staff was working on a proposal to increase fees to nightclubs to help pay for nighttime inspectors.
Following the April 15th meeting, residents continued to monitor the progress of the proposed draft legislation. Senyak and Director Brown urged the collaboration of residents in email correspondence designed to make sure the draft legislation contained all the elements approved by the Planning Commission.
In addition to the above items debated at the Planning Commission the newly proposed legislation updates the definitions of entertainment establishments, requires sound restrictions on indoor entertainment and streamlines the licensing process. Under the proposal all information on the status of a restaurant, bar or entertainment establishment would all be contained on one license displayed at the establishment. Unlike the current use of multiple licenses and permits, this would make it easier for those charged with enforcing the law to determine if the establishment was in compliance.
Ward 3 Councilman Joe Cimperman promised that a number of public hearings on the legislation would be held prior to City Council voting on the proposed changes.