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Planning Board votes against CORE proposal

Date: 8/15/2012

By Carley Dangona

carley@thereminder.com

WESTFIELD — On Aug. 7, the Westfield Planning Board voted 4-3 to not to recommend the proposal to prohibit "night clubs" in the Commercial Office Retail Enterprise (CORE) District.

Jeff Daley, City Advancement Officer for Westfield, presented the ordinance to the Board on behalf of City Councilor James Brown, who was away on business.

The ordinance defined a "night club" as an establishment that operates between the hours of 10:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., and whose primary function is as a dance club, where patrons cannot sit down and enjoy a meal. Also included in the definition were restrictions to the amount of seating and the capacity limits.

"Chiefly — I think I can safely speak for the others that voted with me — first and foremost, the definition of 'night club' seemed unclear," Planning Board member Matthew VanHeynigen said, who voted in opposition. "In my opinion, it was too prohibitive."

Planning Board member Christopher Wilkie voted in favor of the proposal, "I was happy to see that the businesses currently in that area would be unaffected," he said.

Another section of the proposal listed additional prohibited primary uses: tattoo and body piercing studios; smoking lounges; pawn shops and check cashing establishments; adult theaters, bookstores and dance clubs; casinos and gaming parlors; self-service laundromats; and overnight parking or storage lots, allowing more than two vehicles on the premises.

Daley explained the reasoning behind the restrictiveness of the definition. "We don't believe these types of businesses represent the vision of our new, revitalized downtown," he said. "These aren't the types of businesses we want to bring people downtown with, in the CORE District."

In his presentation of the ordinance, Daley used phrases such as "lesser businesses" to describe the types of businesses, whose primary functions the ordinance seeks to prohibit and descriptive words like "rowdy," to describe the patrons that visit such establishments.

Daley cited many reasons for the proposal, but presented little hard evidence to support the claims. One such reference was support from local business owners, who "expressed concerns about attracting 'that crowd,'" Daley said.

"I think he [Daley] only referenced one business owner," VanHeynigen said. "For something that effects the entire CORE District, there didn't seem to be broad support."

While Daley named safety as the foremost reason for the ordinance, he presented no crime statistics to back the concern. "We want people to continue to feel safe," Daley said.

"Certainly, if you're going to make a claim if it were me I would present facts," VanHeynigen said. "That was absent as well."

Wilkie said, "I did agree with the evidence that was presented."

Andrew Porter, a downtown resident, offered his opinion of the ordinance. "I think this is the wrong medication for a pre-existing problem,"
he said. "It seems counter-intuitive to have college kids living downtown, but not allowing dance clubs."

Planning Board Chair Phil McEwan stated, "Of course, this is just a recommendation. The City Council has the final authority."

VanHeynigen added, "I do believe I guess I'm a naturally optimistic it [the ordinance] was well-intended, just not well-defined. I hope they return with a definition that is more vetted and better defined."

On Aug. 16, the Westfield City Council will have public hearings regarding the ordinance at 7 p.m. in room 215 of the Municipal Building, 59 Court St.

Brown was unable to respond in time for publication.