By Gina M. Capone
A new village ordinance regulating nightclubs was given its initial approval by the Wellington Village Council after a public hearing on Tuesday, April 9.
Spawned by a request from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office after arrests at a concert in the Suri West parking lot in Wellington last August, ordinance 2019-03 is intended to minimize the negative effects associated with nightclubs.
Village Manager Paul Schofield explained that the ordinance was written to adopt similar rules like the ones in Palm Beach County, and is designed to combat underage drinking, while addressing the businesses that may be affected.
Planning, Zoning & Building Director Bob Basehart explained that the measure is intended to further the efforts that the council has made over the last several years to minimize and eliminate the negative effects that nightclubs have on the surrounding public. He said that some of the issues of nightclubs are underage drinking, patrons overindulging in alcohol and being the cause of accidents, and vandalism in parking lots and surrounding neighborhoods, to name a few.
After the PBSO suggested that Wellington adopt the county ordinance or something similar, Basehart said that village staff elected to adopt a similar ordinance that would allow the municipality to oversee the ordinance and fit Wellington’s local needs and objectives.
The ordinance has three components. The first is to specifically define a nightclub. The ordinance amends the definition of “nightclub,” as well as minor definitions of “cocktail lounge” and “restaurant.”
Secondly, the standards that are implemented by the ordinance will go into the land development regulations. This allows the village to grandfather-in existing businesses that operate as nightclubs and require village approval of any new establishments that want to enter into the same business.
Thirdly, the ordinance establishes specific criteria to determine whether a business is a nightclub. If the establishment has four out of six criteria, it would be classified as a nightclub.
These criteria are if a cover charge is paid, there is a dance floor or live music, alcohol is served, a onetime membership fee is paid, or the event happens during the specified hours, since not all nightclubs operate when it is dark. Score four or more, and the business is classified as a nightclub.
Businesses still have time to voice their concerns and distinguish whether their business may be a nightclub during all or part of its opening hours, but questions have been few with only a handful of calls to Basehart.
The ordinance would require nightclub establishments to hire Class D-licensed security personnel inside and outside the establishment at a ratio of one officer for every 150 seating capacity. No one under 21 would be admitted during the time the business is operating as a nightclub.
New businesses that would meet the criteria to become a nightclub would require a conditional use approval granted by the council. There is an exemption for the grandfathered-in or existing businesses that are already in place in Wellington. The businesses that are exempt don’t have to get council approval, but they must still abide by the rules in the ordinance, such as the new security requirements.
There was little public comment during the public hearing.
Catherine Green, a bartender representing JoJo’s Raw Bar & Grill voiced her concern that the ordinance criteria may be fuzzy. Looking over the criteria, Schofield confirmed to Green that JoJo’s does not operate as a nightclub but as a restaurant.
The council voted unanimously to pass the first reading of the ordinance, inviting any establishments with concerns to bring them forward before the final approval of the ordinance.
In other business:
• The council appointed Councilman Michael Napoleone to a one-year term as vice mayor. This appointment was determined a year ago when Councilman Michael Drahos was named vice mayor. Drahos accepted the position for only one year, with the stipulation that it go to Napoleone the next year. While largely ceremonial, the vice mayor would step in if the mayor were unable to fulfill her duties or is away from the dais.
• The council proclaimed April as National Donate Life Month in Wellington. After the proclamation, Schofield invited Maureen Budjinski, a local organ, eye and tissue donation advocate to the podium.
Budjinski explained she has been a supporter of organ donation for 45 years. She volunteered at the Kidney Association when she moved to Wellington in the 1970s, where she eventually became secretary. She has a “love and passion” for the cause and presses the importance of the issue.
“Currently, there are well over 113,600 people waiting for a lifesaving transplant,” Budjinski said. “On each day, an average of 79 people will receive a transplant. However, 22 die every day, waiting for that gift of life.”
Losing her son, who was unable to survive when he needed a liver transplant four years ago, she continues to spend her time promoting organ donation in order to save lives.
Someone is added to the transplant list every 10 minutes, she said.
“Most people are in favor of organ donation, but only 58 percent are actually registered,” Budjinski explained.