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Cafe wins variance to keep operating as nightclub

Cosmos Cafe in Ballantyne has become the latest restaurant caught in an ambiguous area of the city’s zoning that threatened to shut the business down over concerns about illegal nightclubs.

Mecklenburg County code inspectors and officers from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department conducted a surprise inspection of the cafe at 1 a.m. Aug. 21 and issued a notice of violation, saying the business at 8420 Rea Road was operating as an illegal nightclub.

The business, according to the inspectors, violated a zoning requirement of at least a 400-foot separation between a nightclub and a residential area.

Although Cosmos failed to get its classification as a nightclub overturned by the city, on Tuesday it was granted variances allowing the nightclub to continue to operate in its current location 125 feet and 350 feet from two residential areas.

When the inspectors arrived at Cosmos Aug. 21, they found a security guard at the door checking identification and a crowd of people dancing to the music of a disc jockey, said Mark Fowler, zoning supervisor for Charlotte Neighborhood and Business Services, during the Tuesday hearing.

As in other similar cases, the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment had to decide when a place that serves food and alcohol is operating as a nightclub. According to the city’s zoning ordinance, a restaurant that serves alcohol becomes a nightclub if it has entertainment, which means the 400-foot separation from a residential area is required.

Attorney Collin Brown, who represented Cosmos owners Stamatios Tsillimos, George Stergiou and Andy Kastanas, as well as Jim Houser, the property owner of The Village of Robinson Farm at Williams Pond Lane and Rea Road, argued that music is a part of the experience at Cosmos. He also questioned the purpose of the notice of violation because, he said, neighbors were not complaining about noise from the business.

The ambiguity of the zoning ordinance related to nightclubs also was part of a discussion between the zoning board members. Their questions included whether or not a restaurant that has a pianist or guitarist providing background music is a nightclub under the current zoning interpretation, which was described by zoning officials during the meeting as “we know it when we see it.”

Katrina Young, Charlotte zoning administration program manager, said her office is organizing a group of stakeholders to discuss the city and restaurant owners’ concerns.

Gold Palacios Mexican Restaurant and Bar at 6736 N. Tryon St. in Charlotte was also given a notice of violation after code inspectors said it was operating as a nightclub and was located too close to a residential neighborhood. Charlotte attorney James Carter requested a 155-foot variance be approved by the Zoning Board of Adjustment so the business could continue to operate, but that motion was denied in September.

Carter said his client, business owner Eva Martinez, offered entertainment to attract more customers and that she did not believe she could be successful without it.

Tara Ramsey can be reached [email protected].

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