Nightclub allowed in Tremont 2-family residential district
by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, September 2007) To a casual observer of the Board of Zoning Appeals (BOZA) hearing on July 30, 2007 on a request for a variance by the Prosperity Social Club, it could appear that Ward 13 Councilman Joe Cimperman, Tremont West Development Corporation (TWDC) and several BOZA members seemed too eager to rush the approval of the variance, even to the extent of violating rules and procedures.

Bonnie Flinner of Delta Management Properties, the owner of the Prosperity Social Club, came before BOZA in an appeal “to add an outdoor patio and expand the use from a restaurant and tavern to a restaurant and tavern with live entertainment in an existing two-story mixed use building.” The building, at 1109 Starkweather, is located in a two family residential district.

In addition, Flinner requested that BOZA give approval of the club having no off street parking, although 10 off street parking spaces were required.

Flinner produced a letter of support from the Auburn Block Club with some conditions on the use of the patio, which she said she had agreed to. Auburn Block Club co-chair Lynn Murray signed the letter, which was written on TWDC stationary.

TWDC staff member Steve Bloom offered the support of the TWDC Economic Development Committee, which he said was obtained at an emergency meeting. Bloom indicated that there was no opposition in the neighborhood to the variance. Bloom indicated that because of Lincoln Park across the street from the establishment that there was plenty of parking available.

Tremont resident Henry Senyak questioned whether residents were given the proper notice. He wondered if residents had known about the change of use to a nightclub and the permanent nature of such a change, that someone might have objected. Senyak pointed out that the notices sent to residents and posted on the BOZA website were incomplete. While the notices included the addition of the patio and the parking issue, the expansion of an existing nonconforming use (notice of a vote on changing from a restaurant and tavern to a restaurant and tavern with live entertainment) was not included in the notice, said Senyak.

Board of Zoning Appeals Acting Secretary Jan Huber agreed an error had been made. She suggested that the hearing be postponed so proper notices could be sent out.

Senyak began a formal presentation to BOZA “I am here to voice my opinion and strong concerns of allowing a ‘Nightclub’ operation in a long-standing two-family zoning district. Affirming a zoning variance for this operation’s location of this appellant asserts a significant precedent that can jeopardize the welfare and safety of residents and property owners all over the City of Cleveland.”

As part of his testimony, Senyak began to ask a series of questions to Flinner through BOZA Chairperson Carol Johnson. BOZA member Ozell Dobbins objected to the use of the BOZA hearing as “an open forum” and tried to cut Senyak off.

Senyak reminded the board “State law gives me the opportunity to cross examine witnesses.”  The City of Cleveland lawyer agreed that Senyak was within his rights and his questioning was allowed to continue.

However, when Senyak wanted to question City of Cleveland Building and Housing After Hours Inspector Rufus Taylor, BOZA Chair Carol Johnson cut him off, saying he could talk to Taylor in the hall if he wanted to ask him questions. Senyak’s testimony was cut short at that point. Senyak reminded Johnson that she was giving him grounds to make an administrative appeal in Common Pleas Court.

Johnson also refused to allow Taylor, who was present at the hearing at the request of his superiors, to testify. Taylor had cited the club for a number of violations including not having the proper permits for nightclub and patio use.

Glen Murray, the husband of Lynn Murray of the Auburn Block Club and a W. 11th resident, testified in support of Prosperity noting the Auburn Block Club was very supportive. Murray failed to disclose that he is a plans examiner for the Department of Building and Housing.

City of Cleveland Planning and Zoning representative Elisabeth Kukla, having listened to the testimony of the witnesses, said the city had no objection to the patio with the restrictions agreed to, or to the waving of the parking requirements. However, she expressed concern about allowing entertainment in a two family residential area. She noted that the variance goes with the property. She said in the future a new owner could come in and have a loud DJ. Under the zoning rules “I don’t think there is any way Building and Housing could control the type of music.”

BOZA member Tim Donovan spoke up for the rights of people to make presentations at the BOZA hearing. He urged that in the future BOZA give everyone “the opportunity to have their say.”

Donovan acknowledged that the appellant didn’t know that the restaurant and bar she purchased didn’t have the proper permits and was trying to rectify that by getting the proper permits.

However, he suggested that the variance requested was “not only expanding a use, but was establishing a nightclub.” Donovan suggested it was worth taking the time to postpone the hearing, send the proper notices out and allowing all parties to weigh in properly.

At this point Ward 13 Councilman Joe Cimperman interjected saying, as long as he was Councilman he would assure that Bonnie Flinner could own an operate her club in this part of Tremont. He began to note how wonderful an operator she was.

Cimperman said zoning was not the only way to deal with problem establishments. Councilman Cimperman said that if she were to transfer the liquor license for some unforeseen reason and the new owner created a problem that could be dealt with through a liquor review. Cimperman said he would do whatever it takes to make sure Flinner could run the club in the neighborhood. If necessary, “I will change zoning to make her use legal,” he said.

BOZA member Dobbins then weighed in. He said the immediate neighbors testified in support of the club, the director of the Development Corporation testified of the value of the club to the neighborhood, and he noted the strong testimony from the councilman. He said the owner of the bar is in place and likely to be there for a long time. Dobbins urged his colleagues not to postpone the hearing. He called a postponement “a waste of money and a waste of time.”

Donovan, noting lack of support for the postponement, began asking questions about the hours of the club, making an effort to possibly restrict the hours when the club would have live entertainment. Flinner said she couldn’t make the determination to restrict hours of entertainment without consulting others.

After a little discussion about hours, the five BOZA members unanimously approved the variances for Prosperity with only the restrictions of the use of the patio agreed to by the owner and the Auburn Block Club.

After the hearing, Senyak was clearly disappointed in the process. “What’s the use of the Fire Department and the Building and Housing Department citing these businesses for no permits or certificates of occupancy and or use permits for a nightclub, when the governing board will rubber stamp a variance based on political influence?”

Senyak was also critical of TWDC’s role in support of the creation of the nightclub. He said each Tremont Block Club is an independent entity and should not be allowed to use TWDC letterhead.

He noted the emergency meeting of the TWDC Economic Development Committee, and the failure of TWDC to send out proper notices or to call members about that meeting. He said some members of the Lincoln Heights Starkweather Block Club live closer to Prosperity Social Club than some of those in the Auburn Block Club, but the Lincoln Heights Starkweather Block Club members were not informed about meetings concerning the Prosperity Social Club.

Starkweather resident Nina Swerdlow, who served for 6 years on the Board of Trustees of Tremont West Development Corporation, said, “I dislike the double standard of TWDC. They say they support this variance because the block club wants it. But they did not support our block club (Lincoln Height Starkweather) when we opposed a variance.”

Senyak said that when city officials created a Special District for Strip Clubs, they said they did so because they didn’t want to ask for a variance and create a precedent that would have other clubs lining up for a variance if approved. Yet now BOZA had created such a precedent for nightclubs, by allowing the creation of a nightclub in a two family residential neighborhood.

Ward 14 Councilman Joe Santiago, who recently enlisted Senyak’s help in reviewing the permits of liquor establishments in his ward, says, “There is a lot of confusion as to what constitutes a night club.”

Santiago said, “This truly shows that the laws and the ordinances in the City of Cleveland need to be looked at to define clearly what the liquor ordinances are.”

“It makes sense to address this in a comprehensive manner so that it is a fair process,” Santiago said. In light of that, Councilman Santiago said he was creating a special task force to look into the liquor laws. He noted there was a lot of confusion as to the definition of terms in Cleveland’s ordinances. The task force would look into city and state laws and best practices in other cities while preparing new zoning code changes governing liquor establishments to propose to the whole of Cleveland City Council.

He said the goal of the task force was not to shut down businesses, but to eliminate confusion about the laws governing liquor establishments.

He invited all interested residents to call his Ward Office at 664-4569 to participate on the task force.

 

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