WESTFIELD – The CORE zoning ordinance amendment to establish a list of prohibited business uses in the city’s downtown district was withdrawn Thursday night at the beginning of a public hearing.
Ward 2 City Councilor James E. Brown, chairman of the Legislative & Ordinance Committee, and the sponsor of the ordinance amendment, requested that the could allow him to withdraw the amendment request without prejudice, which means that he can submit revised legislation at any time.
Several citizens, downtown residents, and business owners were in the audience in anticipation of participating in the public comment portion of the hearing process and were never allowed to exercise that option. Several attempted to speak during public participation on the issue at the beginning of the council session but were advised that public participation is not allowed for subject of a public hearing because public comment is allowed and encouraged as part of the hearing.
Brown, whose ward encompasses about half of the CORE district, said Friday morning that he requested the council to allow the withdrawal of the ordinance change after getting feedback from a number of constituents concerned about provisions in the proposed amendment that could have a restrictive, chilling effect on future development in the district, for both existing and new businesses.
“Basically, I got a lot of input from business folks, restaurateurs, property owners, legal people, including the city’s Law Department, and BID (Business Improvement District) members, about issues for which they have concerns,” Brown said. “I was told by our legal and planning people that some of the areas addressed in the proposed ordinance amendment are already covered in other laws and city ordinances.”
“A concern of existing business owners is that if they want to expand, they might be restricted in what they could do,” Brown said. “All of these folks, including the business owners, agreed that something has to be done to make sure certain types of business are not allowed downtown, businesses involving adult entertainment that might hurt existing businesses, restrictions that are needed to move forward with what makes sense for the revitalization of the downtown.”
The proposed amendment would have prohibited nightclubs over a certain occupancy and other business uses.
The amendment defined a nightclub as a “commercial establishment operating after 10:30 p.m., having a maximum permitted occupancy load of more than 125 persons where such load exceeds the number of seats provided by more than a third, and which typically provides for food and/or drink consumption, dancing facilities for patrons, and the performance of live or recorded music at a sound level generally incompatible with normal conversation or found to be objectionable beyond the property line or from within any residential dwelling unit or hotel guest room.”
The proposed amendment would have prohibited other commercial ventures in the CORE district including: tattoo parlors, body piercing studios, smoking lounges and hookah bars, pawn shops, check cashing establishments, adult theaters, adult bookstores, and adult dance club, casinos and video gaming establishments, automatic self-serve laundries, and overnight parking or storage of more than two trucks or commercial vehicles on any lot, either as a principal or accessory use.
Brown said that he will work with a number of constituents to develop a “broad-based support” for a revised ordinance which will go through the same public hearing review process, including the Planning Board which voted 4-3 to send a negative recommendation to the City Council because of concerns that the definition of a night club was too restrictive and could hinder establishment of new restaurants in the CORE area.
“I wish the Planning Board made recommendations on how to change that definition of a nightclub,” Brown said, adding that a key goal of the discussion will be to develop a broadly acceptable definition of a nightclub.
“We also need to take a hard look at some types of the proposed prohibited business to seek what is compatible with the downtown commercial environment, then resubmit it through the same review process, including the Planning Board,” Brown said.
To see video of the August 16 City Council meeting, click here.