Do city’s business codes and zoning mean nothing?
Published 4:11 pm Thursday, March 16, 2023
We were relieved to see the article published in The Democrat addressing the issues with code enforcement in our great city. As business owners and homeowners in Natchez, we have been directly and negatively affected by our city official’s inability to manage the enforcement of its own laws.
In the last two years, we have had many issues regarding an illegal nightclub operation across the street from our office, all of which is captured on our security cameras.
At least five nights a week, patrons of this business routinely park, loiter, party, and even use the bathroom in our parking lot. These activities usually begin around midnight. As a result, we are no longer free to utilize our own property for our own business because of safety concerns for ourselves and our employees, not to mention the overall liabilities associated with uninvited, perhaps intoxicated or high, individuals trespassing on our property.
Email newsletter signup
The nature of our business requires us to work some late nights. It is not unusual to return from out-of-town jobs at late hours to find our entire parking lot filled.
For example, our cameras recently caught a woman pulling down her pants, placing her buttocks front and center, and urinating at the front steps to our office in our parking lot. An entire lane of E. Franklin St. is frequently blocked at night due to the number of cars bringing patrons to this business. We have had a party bus drop off at our front door so patrons could enjoy the establishment across the street. Trash and debris are left for us to clean up, and sometimes the patrons are still in our parking spots at 5 a.m. in the morning when we report for work. Not only do we and our employees not feel safe going to work, but this situation also creates a liability for us.
After researching, we were informed that the city permitted this business across from our office to open as a “cafe,” but it is clearly operating as a nightclub.
According to the code shown in Chapter 13, page 76, under the section “Restaurants and Bars,” to be granted occupancy as a “cafe,” there must be one parking space per 75 sq ft of gross floor area. Taking this particular establishment as an example, if our city officials were familiar with ANY code, this building being roughly 2,400 SF, would NEVER have been granted occupancy simply due to the lack of parking. In fact, it would legally require thirty-two parking spots. It would have been denied occupancy on the spot. The number of people allotted to that business exceeds the occupancy and fire code, which violates the law. As a result, the overflow parking ALWAYS seeps onto our private property each night.
At the instruction of law enforcement, we spent hundreds of dollars on signs that established our parking lot as “private” and “no trespassing; towing enforced.” That has done nothing to stop the hundreds of cars and people who continue to pile in our parking lot nightly.
Why is this business still allowed to operate? We attempted to contact the city planner directly regarding the permit for this “cafe” with no success. She did not return our calls or answer our emails. After speaking with the mayor regarding this issue, we have yet to see direct action taken.
The police have gone above and beyond when we call about trespassers in our parking lot. This single permitting decision leaves our valuable law enforcement personnel no choice but to cover for the city’s initial permitting mistake and ongoing negligence. The police should be able to allocate their time to more critical calls in the city instead of spending weekends chasing off trespassers from illegally permitted establishments.
In attempting to research the city’s ordinances relating to our issue, we made a startling discovery. A complete and current copy of our city’s Code of Ordinances (the laws that govern our city) is supposedly available for all to view on our city’s website. However, the city has not consistently updated the city’s Code of Ordinances since 1997. The current city clerk is working to address this issue, but the fact is that new ordinances have not been consistently integrated into the online code for 20 years. This is the case with our City’s 2015 development code, which includes our zoning laws. The 2015 development ordinance was not removed. Subsequent amendments to the 2015 development code have also not been made available to the public. We question whether anyone – the city planner, the planning commission, the mayor, the aldermen, or the city attorney – actually has access to the ordinances and amendments that represent the current state of our local development code.
This is inexcusable. Why is the city of Natchez not submitting new ordinances and amendments to be integrated into the online database in a timely manner?
According to Chapter 7, Part 4, page 24, the first step to obtaining occupancy in our city involves submitting a site plan in which a site plan review committee is supposed to approve the plan based on city ordinances and codes. Also, in our city, under “Applications for Approval and Permits,” page 15, chapter 7, all utilities shall be inspected for code purposes. This is the general process for obtaining occupancy. ANY business open to the public also must have handicap-accessible restrooms, which the state fire marshal approves; restaurants must have proper grease traps and vent hoods, and the board of health is notified for appropriate inspections. From what we can tell, our city’s protocol for many occupancy requests has been gross negligence and ignorance. With a $200 check, they will allow anyone occupancy in any building for any business.
We love our city, have invested in it, and chose to call it home a second time for many reasons. We refuse to allow it to succumb to the poor enforcement of laws and ordinances. Permitting, codes and ordinances are pertinent issues our city has let slide. We can do all the pretty things, such as build more docks for the cruise ships, raise Silver Street, renovate the Eola Hotel, and light up the river bridge. But until codes and ordinances are enforced, none of that will make a difference.
Do the mayor, aldermen, and city planner inform new homeowners or business owners that our development code and zoning laws basically mean nothing and that if they relocate to Natchez, an illegal nightclub might open anytime in their own backyards?
Legitimate business owners will never have faith in investing in Natchez if the city of Natchez can’t take care of its own business first. We should not have to suffer or pay for the city’s lack of oversight and enforcement. As business owners and investors lose confidence in City Hall’s ability to manage the basic day-to-day job of running the city, not only will our city continue to be vulnerable to legal suits, but we will begin a downward spiral of population loss, business exodus, and plummeting property values.
Start by maintaining an up-to-date city code to guide elected officials, city staff, law enforcement, the planning commission, and the public. And, please enforce our ordinances and codes.
We call on our mayor, aldermen, senior city staff, and planning commission to act on non-compliant and illegal establishments immediately.
Jessica and Nathan Stubbs own a business in Natchez.