La Copa variance denied
by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, September 2006) At its August 21st meeting, the Board of Zoning Appeals (BOZA) in a unanimous 5-0 vote denied the request by La Copa for a variance that would allow La Copa to operate as a nightclub at 2704 Clark Avenue.

 (Editor’s note: most people left the meeting believing the vote against the variance was 4-1, but a BOZA member changed his vote at the end of the meeting after realizing he had to vote yes on the resolution to deny the variance.)

 The August 21st meeting was the third meeting BOZA held for the variance requested by La Copa.

 In making its decision BOZA followed the advice of staff members, the City of Cleveland Law Department, the neighborhood planner and a representative from the department of Building and Housing. City staff members recommended denial of the variance because La Copa was too close to residential areas, and because denial of the request did not cause undue hardship or practical difficulty for the business. The building could still support other uses including the sports bar that owner Gennie Rodriguez says she is interested in opening.

 Before taking the final vote on the resolution, BOZA gave Rodriguez the opportunity to withdraw her zoning request. If she had done so, she could have resubmitted the same request at a future date. The board warned her that if the board did vote on the matter, it could prejudice their future actions on the matter. Rodriguez declined the opportunity to withdraw the variance request.

 According to a spokesperson for the Cleveland Law Department, “once the variance is denied, the only way to resubmit it is if there is a change in circumstance.”

 La Copa can still open as a sports bar. However, to serve alcohol, it must secure a liquor license. Diane Zellmer of Redeemer Lutheran Church Crisis Center noted that the church received a notice that the liquor license that La Copa had hoped to purchase from Last Chance Saloon in Ward 15 had been withdrawn by the seller and was no longer being offered to La Copa. She also noted that the church has a policy to challenge any additional liquor licenses being added to a neighborhood they believe is already saturated with establishments serving or selling alcohol.

 In a presentation to BOZA, Clark Metro Development Corporation brought up the issue of landscaping of the Dollar Store/La Copa property owned by Gerald Zahler. Several members of BOZA noted that in reviewing records of past BOZA hearings on the property that the owner had not addressed landscaping required by law. BOZA member John Myers said the property owner, who would ultimately benefit from any change in the zoning variance, had not lived up to the landscaping requirements of previous variances granted to the property. BOZA member Tom Donovan went further to say that the original owner Pick-N-Pay never filled the letter of the law which required them to put in 18 foot setbacks.

 BOZA members asked that city officials enforce the landscaping and screening requirements already required of the property owner. There was some question as to whether the Dollar Store opened before or after the new zoning law was passed in 1991 and whether its opening was determined to be a new use requiring application of the latest law. City Planner Nora McNamara was asked to look into the matter. Property owner Gerald Zahler was not present at the meeting.

 Near the end of the meeting, BOZA member Ozell Dobbins II offered some advice to the factions on both sides of the issue. He noted that those for and against the variance were so dug in that they made those on the opposite side seem like villains. “When this is all over you have to live together in the same community. Treat one another as you would like to be treated,” he said.


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