06/25/12 — Bigger buffers around Internet cafes urged

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Bigger buffers around Internet cafes urged

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 25, 2012 1:46 PM

A proposed 300-foot buffer between Internet or sweepstakes cafes and surrounding homes, churches and schools is not enough, Wayne County Commissioner Jack Best told his fellow board members last week.

Best said the distance should be at least 1,000 feet, a quarter mile or even a half mile and the county Planning Board needs to revisit the distance before bringing a proposed zoning amendment before commissioners.

An email already has been sent instructing the county Planning Department to re-examine the distance and to look at what other counties are doing, County Manager Lee Smith said.

Best said he had read a News-Argus story about the Planning Board's proposed ordinance amendment that would regulate the businesses countywide -- not just in the areas where there is zoning in place.

The ordinance requires that the businesses be at least 300 feet from a residence. Commissioners would have to hold a public hearing on the proposal. Afterwards they could approve the amendment as written, ask for changes, or not act at all.

The Internet cafes are "gambling" cafes, Best said.

"The 300 feet, that is not even a block," he said. "Everything would be in the same block. I'd like to suggest that the Planning Department look at a quarter of a mile, a thousand feet at minimum. I think we need to increase that footage."

Smith said he also had sent inquiries to managers in other counties to see how they are handling the setback distances.

"It is all over the board with cities because they do operate in denser type situations," Smith said. "But with counties you don't have the density and they are spreading them out. It is a quarter mile, half mile, a mile, 2,000 feet. I mean they are all over the board as far as what people are looking at. The distances are greater in counties versus municipalities."

Some of the cafes are operating into the "wee hours" of the morning, he said.

"So there is continuous traffic," he said. "Where a lot of places shut down, these stay open. Right, wrong or indifferent it is what is and if they are allowed then you just need to look at it because it does cause traffic. I don't think we have had problems per se out in the county, but there is traffic."

Earlier, the Planning Board had asked County Planner Connie Price and County Attorney Borden Parker to look at adding language that would allow the business to be closer than 300 feet to a residence if the person living there did not object.

For example, a person might own a building within 300 feet of their home that they would like to use, Price said in an earlier interview. However, the original proposal would not allow the building to be used for an Internet cafe. Planning Board members said the ordinance needs to include wording that would allow it.

The ordinance describes an Internet cafe as a "business enterprise, whether principal or accessory, where persons utilize electronic machines or devices, including but not limited to computers and gaming terminals, to conduct games of odds or chance, including sweepstakes, and where cash, merchandise, or other items of value are redeemed or otherwise distributed, whether or not the value of such distribution is determined by electronic games played or by predetermined odds."

It excludes any lotteries approved by the state.

The ordinance would allow an electronic gaming operation as a permitted use in community shopping, light industry, or height-restricted districts as well as in all commercial operations in unzoned areas.

It would not be a permitted use in village district zones.

The hours of operation would be limited to 8 a.m. through midnight, seven days per week. Alcohol sales or consumption would be prohibited. The county fire marshal would establish an occupancy limit prior to submission of the operation's permit application.

The ordinance would set a maximum daily cash payout not to exceed $600. Winnings above that amount would have to be paid by check or credit.

The ordinance would require "reasonable fees sufficient to cover the costs of administration, inspection, publication of notice and similar matters may be charged to applicants for permits, variances, and other administrative relief as may be required by this ordinance."