VENTNOR — Community members and local musicians filled the seats at Wednesday’s Zoning Board meeting in support of Ventnor Coffee, where the music is allowed to continue — for now.
The coffee shop had been issued a violation notice by the city’s code enforcement office for hosting live music in a commercial zone.
Owners Mike Einwechter and his wife, Christine Pagano, requested to go before the board to present their interpretation of live music as an accessory to a coffee house, not its primary function, therefore claiming it should be permitted.
The city doesn’t currently have a definition of coffee house, nor does it define the accessories of such an establishment.
The Zoning Board will vote to accept or deny the definition as code, but decided to table a vote for one month to give both the business owners and the board time to come up with a list suggestions and limitations for its specific interpretation of a coffee house.
For example, they will need to decide how many members the bands performing in a coffee house could have, whether the bands can be paid by the business owners, which they currently are sometimes, and how late they can play.
“Why would a community push away a business that’s trying to do something to make it work in the nine months of the year when we’re the only ones here?” asked licensed planner Lance Landgraf, who testified as an expert and has worked with other New Jersey cities to revitalize their downtowns by marketing coffee houses as community hubs.
Landgraf’s comment resulted in applause from the audience, which was prohibited from giving public comment.
The board will meet with the owners and their lawyer, Brian Callahan, at next month’s meeting and vote on whether live music as they define it is an approved accessory of the business.
Until then, Ventnor Coffee can continue to host music as it has since it opened in August.
If the board votes to approve the music as an accessory of the business, the owners will then have to follow the city’s regulations to be up to fire safety code and apply for use and parking variances, if needed.
According to the violation notice, which was issued by Ventnor Code Enforcement Officer Jimmie Agnesino, “use of assembly” is prohibited in a commercial zone. It cited the Ventnor City Developmental Regulations Section 102-85 A(2), which lists permitted zone uses, and section 102-85 C(1), which addresses advisory uses.
Agnesino said the codes “mean no classroom, dance, art, yoga or instruction groups are permitted unless the property is granted approval from the city, at which time it would have to also meet parking regulations.”
“Additionally, to have concerts or entertainment where people would assemble for such would require a use variance and/or parking variance,” he said.
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