Family-friendly venues receive council approval

Published 7:30 pm Monday, July 20, 2020

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City Council last week gave its unanimous approval to a pair of proposed venues for West Washington Street tailoring themselves to children and families.

One of the venues would be an 1,800-square-foot indoor amusement center located at 126 W. West Washington St. to be rented out for small gatherings and birthday parties for children and run by Christopher Mayes, owner of Party Time Entertainment LLC.

Council also approved a conditional use permit for the nearby Will-O-Wisp Family Game Store and Café to be located on the ground floor of 153 W. Washington St., roughly across the street from Mayes’ business.

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Mayes had been operating a party supply and equipment rental business out of his location, but he plans to expand it to use the first floor space to rent out for small gatherings and birthday parties for children. The rental area would have video game equipment, a play area with games such as table tennis, board games, arts and crafts and a seating area.

His venue, which will hold between 30 to 40 people, will only be available for private parties and not be open to the public. Guests will be allowed to bring their own food and drinks, but will not be allowed to bring alcohol.

Rental hours will be from noon to 8 p.m. weekdays and noon to 9 p.m. weekends.

“I want to provide something different for the community, for the kids, only by reservation … just something different to provide fun for the kids and their families,” Mayes said during a July 15 public hearing during the council’s meeting.

While Mayes said no alcohol would be served on the premises, the conditional use permit stated that if alcoholic beverages were to be served, then Mayes would have to get necessary licenses and approvals from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

That part of the permit concerned councilmembers.

Fawcett said the only way he could approve the permit is to have it read that no alcohol will be served on the property at any time.

“This is supposed to be a family-oriented place with children involved,” Fawcett said, “And I can’t find a reasonable time that tells me that there’d be an alcohol situation going on there, a party with alcohol.”

Fawcett was also concerned with the hours of operation, since the conditional use permit states that staff had recommended all operations end by 11 p.m. on weeknights and by midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

“I’m not really sure that I could support the fact of having children in the downtown area at 12 midnight,” Fawcett said.

“When I presented it, there was absolutely no alcohol that was going to be on premises,” Mayes said. “And when I presented the hours of operation, it was on weekdays (open) until 8 o’clock, and on weekends, it was made an hour or two later, but I think that’s just because what the city regulates as far as how long a place can be open or operating in that manner.”

Mayes said he would have no problem having those conditions stated in the permit request.

Councilman Mike Duman said he did not have a problem with having extended hours in the event that Mayes decided at some point to widen the scope of his business. Duman noted that Mayes would likely get rejected for an ABC license for alcohol because he wouldn’t be serving food, much less enough food to be granted a license to serve alcohol.

Councilman Tim Johnson said he was concerned that planning staff was imposing regulations on a business that the business owner does not want. However, Director of Planning and Community Development David Hainley said planning staff had been going with the standard conditions for places of assembly.

“These are recommendation conditions from the Planning Commission, and the City Council can amend the conditions,” Hainley said.

City Manager Patrick Roberts explained that staff is trying to assign “a standard set of conditions to all businesses to level the playing field for all applicants.” Roberts said if the applicant asks for greater restrictions that what staff has proposed, it is something that council can do.

“I kind of concur that we need some type of consistency in what we allow and don’t allow,” said Mayor Linda Johnson, “or we get into trouble.”

Mayes said he was comfortable in taking out any references to allowing alcohol on the property, but wanted the option of having extended hours, even though that’s not in his current plans.

The nearby Will-O-Wisp Family Game Store and Café will go on the ground floor at 153 W. Washington St.

Brian Stewart proposed the business and is looking to create a family-friendly environment so people can enjoy playing games such as Magic the Gathering, Pokémon, Dungeons and Dragons and others. There would also be a café to serve hot and cold sandwiches, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages.

Stewart’s plans to put in a toddler play area as well as a private events and classroom area in the back of the business. It would also offer a library of items to rent. The store itself would be free for everyone, and it plans to host regular free events along with limited events that would have an admission fee.

Stewart proposed a maximum occupancy of 49 people, including staff and customers, and he plans on no major physical changes to the building. He said there would be no gambling with the games, and no alcohol would be served. He, like Mayes, agreed to the conditions about not serving alcohol.

Will-O-Wisp’s hours would be from 2 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, noon to midnight Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. It would be closed on Mondays. The application for Stewart’s conditional use permit stated that he wanted the option to vary the hours based on customer feedback and special events.

“I look forward to providing something new to the community that’s for all ages, all the way up from grandpa all the way down to the toddler,” Stewart said during a public hearing. “So we’re going to provide a toddler play area. That’s something that’s not very common in these type of game stores, and we have a family of our own, and that’s what we wish other game stores had, so that’s why we’re going to provide it in ours.”