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City Looks to Tighten Rules on Restaurants Acting Like Nightclubs

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To weather the recession, many Charlotte restaurants have started crossing into nightclub territory after dinner, with entertainment such as live music and dancing. It may be working for the restaurants, but not always for their residential neighbors. So now - just months after the city revised its noise ordinance - officials are tweaking restaurant zoning laws, too. The proposed changes say nothing about noise, but that's all Rob Nixon sees in them. He's an owner of Jackalope Jacks in the Elizabeth neighborhood. "If the changes are approved, I'm not gonna need ushers, I'm gonna need shushers," quips Nixon. The proposal says that at midnight, all entertainment - that means live or recorded music, dancing, karaoke, comedy and even pool tables - would have to stop at restaurants that are less than one city block from someone's house. Midnight is way too early for Charlie Powell who makes a living running karaoke and trivia nights for restaurants around town. "Really the magic hour within bars, if you look at the economics behind it, is between 12 and 1 - that's when they make their money every night of the week," says Powell. That's also the "magic hour" for nearby residents trying to get some sleep, so city planners say they're looking for a balance. The proposed changes won't affect restaurants in Uptown Charlotte and they won't affect businesses that are licensed as nightclubs, bars or lounges because city zoning laws already require a 400-foot separation between them and residential neighborhoods. It's these restaurants that morph into more of a nightclub after dark that are the target of the proposed change. Current city code says restaurants aren't supposed to offer any entertainment - not even a pool table - but Charlotte Zoning Administrator Katrina Young says many do, so the zoning change will actually make their activities legal. Restaurant owners like Nixon at Jackalope Jacks would prefer the city deal with neighbor complaints by enforcing the noise ordinance council members went to such trouble to update over the summer. But Young says changing the zoning law will help the city fix more than just noise, public intoxication, "people cutting through yards, going on private property, throwing trash, all kinds of things," says Young. The proposed midnight curfew for entertainment in restaurants was supposed to go before the planning commission on December 5th, but Young says that's been delayed as the city seeks more input from its citizen advisory group.