A number of people have expressed surprise at the recent county actions against large lounges on Wells Rd. This has actually been in the works for a long time, but has been kept very quiet.
This issue first came to light in early 2010 during the Clay Charter Review Commission. At the time the CRC was considering putting an item on the ballot to allow alcohol sales on Sunday mornings. This was opposed by family values and anti-alcohol advocates, and by those who considered it an intrusion into the power of elected officials for alcohol hours to be set by voters.
1. County Attorney Mark Scruby addresses the CRC about "unintended consequences" of setting alcohol hours by charter, but won't say what he's really talking about.
2. County Commissioner Travis Cummings addresses the CRC about "unintended consequences" of setting alcohol hours by charter, but won't say what he's really talking about.
3. The "Wells Rd Overlay Plan" is finally revealed. According to CRC testimony, which is public record and may be watched on video at the Clay County website, Commissioner Cummings contacted the CRC lawyer and a few CRC members so that he could talk to them off of the record. The big concern of Commissioner Cummings was that if alcohol hours were set by county charter to be from 7 am to 2 am the following day, every day, the County Commission would be unable to pass an overlay ordinance for special hours on Wells Rd. This resulted in the Sunday hours plan being voted down by the CRC, so the ordinance prohibiting alcohol sales until 2:00 pm on Sundays still stands.
4. The issue came up soon after in a County Commission meeting when a citizen asked for details of the Wells Rd. overlay plan. He was told that there were no plans to enact such an overlay.
5. The subject of Wells Rd came up once more in the CRC, during it's last meeting. A leader of the local family values PAC, Clay Family Policy Forum, addressed the CRC, here are some of her comments: "The ordinance will have to be specific and address the club issues on Wells rd...it was my opinion that Wells Rd had become rather seedy...I knew there was an issue with Club Christopher having gun fights...I noticed another club called the Chameleon Club Cafe...if you can't connect these dots between extending the hours for the sales of alcohol, the club on Wells Rd, which by the way has a motel in the backyard, the dog track and the poker room, then you need to go to Atlantic City for a weekend. If you think we will turn Orange Park into Atlantic City then you will have a big fight on your hands."
6. More recently, the issue became public at the April 18 Policy Committee Meeting. These are actually two separate ordinances, one for hours of operation and the other for zoning. The hours ordinance would require all large lounges on Well to cease selling alcohol by 11:00 pm. The zoning ordinance prohibits further large lounges from opening on Wells and requires the existing lounges to vacate within 5 years. One citizen spoke against these ordinances, but they were recommended for approval by the committee. So that everyone understands, the Policy Committee does not make final decisions, they examine items that come from the county manager/county staff, make a recomendation and will forward them to the next step of the process. They recommended the hours ordinance go to the Board of the County Commission for approval, and forwarded the zoning ordinance to the Planning Commission. "Large Lounge" is not an official license type, it is just those over the size of a number the county commission is calling "large." This number is 10% larger than the square footage of 57 Heaven, which will not be affected. The affected businesses are Crazy Horse, Club Chameleon, and Club Christopher. The zone covered extends across Blanding on Wells and would prohibit anyone reopening Shades nightclub.
7. The zoning ordinance was discusses at the May 3 Planning Commission meeting and recommended for approval. It was explained by county attorney Mark Scruby that the reason for the 5 year grandfathering of existing businesses was to give them a reasonable time to relocate without suffering financial loss. I guess they don't consider an immediate requirement to stop serving at 11:00 as something that would interfere with them staying in business.
8. Both of these ordinances were discussed and approved at the May 10 County Commission Board Meeting, HOWEVER, ordinance changes require TWO public meetings, so both should be heard again the May 24 meeting. Interested parties have until that time to negotiate a compromise because the ordinances can be amended before the second meeting. Hopefully something can be worked out because the county commission is certain to approve these two ordinances on the 24th.