Attorney for Truth Lounge has no comment on closing of nightclub by planning commission

Published 2:45 am Saturday, April 27, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

NATCHEZ — A Jackson-area attorney who represents the Truth Lounge said he had no comment Friday afternoon on action taken by the city’s planning commission to revoke the nightclub’s permit to operate in downtown Natchez.

City Planner Frankie Legaux said the nightclub cannot operate without the special exception permit.

“That does not mean that the owners, Rickey Banks and David Haywood, can’t go into the building, but they cannot operate or open to the public. That is my understanding,” she said.

Email newsletter signup

The commission voted 4 to 3 on Thursday to revoke the Truth Lounge special exception permit. Commissioners Dan Hays Clark, Butch Johnson, Cheryl Rinehart and Marcia McCullough voted in favor of the revocation; Commissioners Mildred Chatman, Emma Rose Jackson and Charles Harris voted against the motion. Commissioner Jonathan Smith did not attend the meeting.

Rinehart, chairman of the planning commission, said Truth Lounge owners Rickey Banks and David Haywood “have every right” to appeal the planning commission’s decision to the city’s Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

“It is our duty by law to review special exceptions we grant to make certain they continue to meet the criteria of the special exception,” Rinehart said.

She said the issue was on the planning commission’s agenda Thursday because members of the commission have received numerous complaints about the nightclub via phone calls from residents and in writing from those who live in the area of the nightclub. Most recent complaints relate to an incident in the early hours of Easter Sunday when an estimated 30 shots were fired during a barrage of gunfire outside the lounge near the intersection of Franklin and Dr. Martin Luther King streets.

Rinehart said special exceptions have seven stipulations they must meet in order to continue with the special exception.

“This is the second time in a year we have had to hear them,” she said.

The planning commission granted owners of the Truth Lounge a special exception to operate a lounge at 719 ½ Franklin St. on March 17, 2023, by unanimous vote. The exception lists seven benchmarks the owners must meet.

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.

The seven stipulations those with special exception permits to operate must meet include:

That the proposed use or development of the land will not materially endanger the public health or safety;
That the proposed use is reasonably necessary for the public health or general welfare, such as by enhancing the successful operation of the surrounding area in its basic community functions or by providing an essential service to the community or region;
That the proposed use or development of the land will not substantially injure the value of adjoining or abutting property;
That the proposed use or development of the land will be in harmony with the scale, bulk, coverage, density and character of the area or neighborhood in which it is located;
That the proposed use or development of the land will generally conform to the Comprehensive Plan and other official plans adopted by the City of Natchez;
That the proposed use is appropriately located with respect to transportation facilities, water supply, fire and police protection, waste disposal and similar facilities; and
That the proposed use will not cause undue traffic congestion or create a traffic hazard.
Reviewing those, Clark 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.”

Supporters of the lounge who spoke on Thursday said the issue is not related to the lounge, but to larger concerns.

“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.”

Ty Mims, who lives on State Street, told the commission he heard the gunshots during the most recent incident outside the lounge. “I heard the gunshots and it scared the hell out of me,” he said. “This business in my opinion is not responsible for what happens outside their doors. There is a parking lot and someone needs to talk to those people and the surrounding area about why they’re allowing loitering and the police are not moving along the crowds.”

The city closed the nightclub after a situation in the late night of Oct. 13  and the early morning hours of Oct. 14, 2023, after local law enforcement said a fight inside it took 20 minutes to quell after officers arrived. Chaos outside the lounge, Natchez Police officials said, threatened to overwhelm officers. The lounge had also been the target of complaints from those who operate businesses or live in the area, citing loud noise, disruptive and disorderly behavior from people who had been in the lounge and had used private parking.

Truth Lounge owners later filed suit against city officials and a separate suit against Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson and 15 as-yet-unnamed people. The suit against city officials has since been dropped. The Truth Lounge lawsuit against the mayor is ongoing.

Stacy Graning contributed to this report.