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Ordinance to ‘Modernize’ West Hartford Zoning Code Set for Hearing

West Hartford Town Hall. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The West Hartford Town Council will consider a zoning change to allow recreational activities and restaurants to operate out of the same space.

By Abigail Albair, West Hartford Press Editor

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Sept. 14 edition of The West Hartford Press. To request a copy of the weekly newspaper and to read more visit www.turleyct.com.

A public hearing will be held this fall on ordinance changes that will “modernize” zoning rules to allow for experiential recreation and restaurants in town.

The type of use the ordinance would permit combines experiential uses, such as an arcade, bowling or billiards, with the sale of food and/or alcoholic beverages, Town Manager Matt Hart explained at a Community Planning and Physical Services Committee meeting last month, citing Dave & Buster’s as an example.

“The town’s current zoning ordinances do not provide for the flexibility to allow for more than one main use to be located within a single establishment, particularly when paired with a restaurant use and/or the intent to sell alcoholic beverages,” Hart wrote in a summary for the committee. “To address this, we have crafted new definitions for ‘Indoor Recreation Amusement Facility, Excluding Nightclubs’ and for ‘Theater’ establishments to provide applicants with flexibility. … This new type of use would be subject to review and approval by the town’s Plan and Zoning Commission under the Special Use Permit hearing process.”

Over the last year, the committee has debated portions of drafts of the ordinance, specifically regarding whether or not live music will be allowed in the new permitted businesses, the hours of operation, and the type of liquor permits the businesses may obtain.

Now in its final draft version, the ordinance establishes definitions for the permitting of experiential recreation and restaurant facilities. Indoor recreation or amusement facilities will be permitted in the CBDG, BG and IG zones, but not in residential zones or the BC zone, which covers West Hartford Center.

The businesses are defined as “a space in a suitable and permanent building kept, used, maintained, advertised and held out to and known by the public as primarily a place to pursue leisure activities or games of skill or scoring, including but not limited to pinball, video games, pool or billiards, bowling, roller skating, miniature golf, go-kart-racing, trampoline or bounce parks, puzzle or adventure rooms, water parks or karaoke.”

Disc jockeys will not be permitted at such businesses, and, if alcoholic drink is to be served, the facility must be at least 5,000 square feet with hot food offered for service as well.

“The service of alcoholic drink and hot food shall be adjunct to the primary function of recreation or amusement,” the ordinance reads. “The service of alcoholic drink shall operate under the applicable liquor permit, with the exception of café permits, which shall not be permitted.”

Café permits are generally issued when there is no food service, Town Planner Todd Dumais explained during the committee meeting, which is why it will not be allowed for operation of the experiential recreation facilities.

West Hartford only allows three types of liquor permits, including a restaurant permit, a hotel liquor permit and a manufacturers liquor permit, which is used by the town’s lone brewery on New Park Avenue.

With regard to hours of operation, the facilities must close by midnight.

Nightclubs, dance halls or dance clubs will not be permitted.

Theaters are also defined in the ordinance, and permitted to serve alcoholic beverages provided hot food is also offered. Theaters may operate under applicable liquor permits, including café permits, as that is the typical permit the state Liquor Control Commission grants to movie theaters that provide alcohol service.

A second ordinance related to the matter will require entertainment licenses for indoor recreation or amusement facilities. The licenses, which are already required for other businesses that provide entertainment, such as restaurants that have live music, regulate noise, hours of operation and security.

During previous discussions of the ordinance, Police Chief Tracey Gove raised concerns about public safety with regard to experiential recreation businesses due to hours of operation and the type of music that could be
provided.

“The police chief is generally comfortable now, especially by having the exclusion of DJs in this draft,” Director of Community Services Mark McGovern said at the August committee meeting. “That was one particular issue we needed to work through that a venue can’t have several hundred people going to an event that has a DJ with a promoter.”

He said parties that have expressed an interest in opening an experiential recreation business in town are pleased that live music will be allowed, but “aren’t completely happy” due to the restriction that the facilities close at midnight.

McGovern and Dumais noted that not many spaces in town would meet the 5,000 -square-foot requirement for these businesses. Two in particular for which the town hopes to attract tenants are the vacant space in Bishops Corner previously occupied by the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, and the REI space in Blue Back Square that will become vacant when that business moves to the new development in Corbin’s Corner, the Corbin Collection.

The Town Council set the two ordinances – establishing definitions and requiring entertainment licenses – for public hearings Oct. 10 and Oct. 24. It is expected the hearings will open those dates, but no public comment will be heard as the hearings will be immediately continued to Nov. 14 due to administrative scheduling conflicts.

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