08/08/12 — Public looks at cafe rules; vote will wait

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Public looks at cafe rules; vote will wait

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 8, 2012 1:46 PM

The Rev. Jerry Mitchell would be just as happy to see the proposed setback for Internet or sweepstakes cafes be one mile outside the Wayne County line as opposed to the proposed 1,000 feet from any home, school or church.

"Personally, I would like to see a mile from any residence because it is not a residential business," Mitchell said during a Tuesday morning public hearing held by the county Board of Commissioners on a proposed county ordinance that would regulate the cafes. "Actually, I was going to ask for a mile outside the county limits."

"So you would like to see us put them all in Lenoir County," joked Wayne County Commission Chairman John Bell.

Mitchell drew chuckles from commissioners and the small audience at the meeting when he said he would, and then he proceeded to list the other surrounding counties.

What will happen to the proposal that would regulate the gambling establishments is still up in the air. Following the hearing, commissioners unanimously approved Commissioner Steve Keen's motion to table the issue until the board's next session to allow time to study comments made during the hearing.

Under the proposal, the cafes could not be located less than 1,000 feet to any home, church or school and would be required to close by 11 p.m.

Mitchell, pastor of Garris Chapel Methodist Church, said that a more restrictive ordinance is needed to regulate the businesses that he said "prey" on people.

He also said that whatever commissioners approve should be made effective immediately.

"I am not even here to talk about if it (cafes) is a legal thing," he said. "We already know that a lot of things that are legal are not necessarily healthy."

Mitchell said he believes he was speaking for many Wayne County residents, or at least the 300 members of his church.

"We have a gaming operation open up almost directly across the street from the church. As I understand it, the proposal is for 1,000 feet. I wouldn't argue with that except that I would like for you to consider when people move into Wayne County how many of these gaming operations will they see. What communities will they want to live in?

"Will the gaming operations make a difference? I don't know, but I believe that it will. I believe Wayne County has a wonderful reputation for integrity and for doing what is right and healthy for its citizens."

Another speaker, Tom Drew, questioned how effective the ordinance would be since state-sponsored lotteries are exempt. People can visit almost any convenience store that sells lottery tickets to get their gambling fix, he said.

Willie Draughon said he lives near one of the Internet cafes, but that a neighbor was even closer. The lights are so bright that the neighbor probably needs dark window shades in order to sleep at night, he said.

Draughon wanted to know who would enforce the ordinance, and questioned giving existing Internet cafes a year to comply with any new rules.

It should be done "right now," he said.

County Attorney Borden Parker told him that the county Planning Department would enforce the rules and that people could let the county know if they thought the rules were being violated.

The proposed county-wide ordinance would regulate the businesses even in areas where there is no county zoning. However, it would not apply to any of the businesses located inside municipalities.

The county currently has no ordinance governing the location and operation of the cafes. If approved, existing operations would have 12 months to become compliant with the new rules -- in some cases meaning they could have to shut down or relocate.

The proposal would prohibit alcohol sales or consumption at the sites, and the county fire marshal would establish an occupancy limit prior to submission of the operation's permit application.

The proposed ordinance would set a maximum daily cash payout of $600. Any amount above that would have to be paid by check or credit.