Planning commission revokes special permit for controversial Truth Lounge

Published 9:11 am Friday, April 26, 2024

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NATCHEZ – Owners of a Franklin Street lounge lost their special exception permit on Thursday.

Members of the Natchez Planning Commission voted 4-3 to revoke the special exemption permit after more than an hour of discussion and 20 minutes of public comment during the commission meeting on Thursday, with chairman Cheryl Rhinehart breaking the tie.

The lounge, located at 719 Franklin St., has been the center of controversy since opening, with reports of loitering, gunshots, noise ordinance violations and more relating to patrons outside the club and in the streets and area of the club.

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In voting to deny the permit, Dan Hays Clark cited the effects of issuing the special use permit in the neighborhood. “We gave a permit, and since that permit has been issued, we have been getting nothing but these effects that had not been happening in that neighborhood until this permit was granted,” he said.

Reviewing some seven stipulations outlined in the special use permit, he cited three that had not been met. “They’re supposed to clear all seven. If they mark no on any one of these, we are bound by law to deny the permit,” he said. “Now, we can go into a fight with them anywhere they take it from here, but as a commission, that is our job.”

Owners Rickey Banks and David Haywood, along with their attorney and several supporters, also spoke during the public hearing. The owners asked for cause for a review of the special use permit and reiterated that they have no control over the crowds that gather in the block surrounding the club.

“This is a police problem,” said Lee Ford, retired Natchez Police Officer, reiterating that the issue lies with a lack of police presence and enforcement of loitering laws in the area surrounding the intersections of Franklin and Martin Luther King streets.

Joyce Arceneaux, president of the Natchez NAACP and a former alderwoman, pointed out that the city has for years tried to emulate “New Orleans atmosphere. The creation of a recreation district and its “go cup” laws allow for patrons to move from one establishment to another, an intentional design by former planners and city leaders in an effort to boost Natchez’s image as a resort town. She also cited the fact that the downtown area is a multi-use area and that anyone who chooses to live in that area “should know or be told in advance that (the housing) was not designed for a family atmosphere.”

Early on Easter Sunday, a shooting took place in a parking lot near Truth Lounge. Video captured on a security camera located across the street from Truth Lounge shows a crowd of people arguing in the street outside the business. Then, gunshots can be heard on the video, which shows the crowd running from the scene.

The lounge was closed after a similar brawl on Oct. 23, 2023, during which law enforcement officers said they were nearly overwhelmed by an unruly crowd outside the lounge that blocked the roadway on Franklin and MLK streets. That incident allegedly stemmed from a brawl inside the bar that law enforcement said took 20 minutes to quell after their arrival. In a special meeting the next day, the mayor and aldermen voted to close the bar. Sixth District Circuit Court Judge Debra Blackwell signed off on an agreement between the city and the city’s attorney to allow it to reopen but with stipulations that directed it to close at a certain time, earlier than it typically closed. Truth Lounge owners sued the city and city staffers, and the city and owners came to an agreement that it could reopen without stipulations. After a public hearing on Feb. 15, the planning commission agreed it could continue to operate without stipulations.