Norfolk Approves Amendment to Change Operating Hours for Bars, Clubs

Will Witt, Contributing Writer

On Sept. 13, the Norfolk City Council voted on an amendment to require clubs, restaurants, and bars to close by 2 a.m.

 

In a council meeting held prior to the public hearing, the Norfolk City Council met to discuss an amendment that would redefine the definitions of “Disc Jockey (DJ)” and “Entertainment” when issuing conditional use permits for the sale of alcohol. These new definitions would have given the city the power to reclassify a restaurant or bar as an entertainment venue, which would require the venue to close at 11:00pm. These additions were removed prior to the public hearing. 

 

Norfolk citizens packed the council chambers to capacity, forcing the remaining locals to watch via a TV in the lobby. Armed with printouts of the agenda, over 100 people crowded the lobby of Norfolk City Hall, anxiously awaiting the council’s vote.

 

Mayor Kenneth Alexander, Ph.D. addressed the full chamber, noting the recent decision to table two of the three proposed amendments. 

 

The amendment to be voted on was that clubs, restaurants, and bars cannot remain open after 2 a.m. Prior to this amendment, permits stated that the sale of alcoholic beverages must stop at 2 a.m. However, the permits did not require the establishment to close for business. 

 

After this opening statement, Alexander opened the floor to speakers who signed up to speak before the council. He would have to restate many times that the only things being spoken about were the revisions to the amendment, titled PH-1.

 

Many citizens thanked the council for removing the most contentious parts of the amendment, yet they expressed frustrations with the council’s lack of transparency. Business owners and patrons alike shared that they were blindsided by the news that this amendment was written with no consultation with the owners who would be affected. 

 

The amendment, which was passed with a 5-2 vote, will now require new restaurant owners to apply for a conditional use permit for the sale of alcohol in Norfolk city limits. 

 

These establiments will also be required to close at 2 a.m. Prior to this, restaurants were able to serve alcohol until midnight without a permit and stay open past 2 a.m.

 

One topic that remained consistent in citizens’ concerns was the use of violence in the city to justify the creation of PH-1. Alexander denied that violence was the motivation for the drafting. However, one citizen dug through the data prior to the meeting and brought graphs to the council. 

 

In his findings, he said, “Out of 292 shootings since 2021…only 3% took place within 750 ft of a venue.” His conclusions were echoed by others concerned that the closing of these venues would drive patrons to seek out entertainment elsewhere at unregulated enablements. 

 

The citizen’s statement pointed a spotlight on the recent shootings on campus and the thirty-minute delay in police response.These restrictions would drive patrons toward unregulated gatherings earlier in the night, which are common around campuses. This type of violence could drive prospective students and current students alike to seek other options for furthering their education.  

 

After PH-1 was passed, the crowd was largely unsatisfied. Norfolk citizen Shaniqua Stallings said: “These amendments are targeted at minorities.” 

 

She was unhappy that PH-1 was still considered after the tabling of two-thirds of the amendment. Another concern was the arduous process new restaurant owners must now go through to apply for their $11,000.00 conditional use permit, which can still be denied. Still, it was not all smiles from the council members after their success. 

 

Councilwoman Mamie Johnson delivered her remarks citing the rough uphill battle the council members face to introduce these amendments to the public. After wiping a tear from her eye, she claimed that she has “received no thanks” for her pursuit of this public service. At this point many citizens left the lobby, brushing her off and talking about when the next election will be.

 

Councilwoman Mamie Johnson of Norfolk’s third ward is running unopposed in the coming election this November.