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Lights Out for Nightclub

July 15, 2008

By Karen Smith Welch, Amarillo Globe-News, Texas

Jul. 15–Northeast Amarillo residents on Monday successfully rallied against a company seeking to open a nightclub in a shopping center near their homes.

The Amarillo Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday elevated members Louise Ross and John Notestine to serve as chairwoman and vice chairman, respectively.

It recently appointed Brandon Neely and Judy Day as replacements for outgoing Chairman Paul Williamson and Commissioner Richard Sims, whose terms had expired.

The Amarillo Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously denied a request for zoning that would give RonCo Investments a permit to sell and serve alcohol from a 20,000-square-foot space in the Trades Fair Shopping Center at Northeast 24th Avenue and Grand Street.

The proposal called for the bar to be open from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

“I’m concerned about the value of my property dropping,” said Linda Metcalf, whose North Woodlands Street home backs up to the site on the west. “Nobody’s going to want to buy a house with a bar behind it. I wouldn’t.”

Like Metcalf, residents of neighborhoods surrounding the location feared the nightclub would bring crime, noise, traffic and trash.

“Things at a bar can get quickly out of hand,” said Darius Kidd, a North Bolton Street resident. “Somebody can pull out a gun and start shooting, and there’s houses behind there.”

RonCo Investments Managing Partner Ronnie Lyles said the club would hire a bonded firm to provide security and patrol the center parking lot during its business hours, guessing the firm would need eight to 10 people to do the job.

“If we need more, we’ll have them,” he said. “Whatever we need, we’ll provide.”

Courtney Warren said Burberry’s, the Polk Street nightclub she operates with Lyles, has contributed to a safer downtown because of increased foot traffic, better lighting and the staff’s strong relationship with the Amarillo Police Department.

But planning commissioner John Notestine asked Warren about a 2006 drive-by shooting outside the club on Polk Street.

“Yes, that was across, but it was on Polk Street,” she said.

A Burberry’s doorman was injured in the shooting, which occurred after a confrontation during which he prevented an underage person from entering. APD officials quoted in newspaper accounts of the shooting called it an “isolated incident” that could have happened anywhere.

Lyles also tried to address traffic concerns by offering to either permanently block a southern entrance to the shopping-center parking lot from Martin Road with a wall, or block the entrance at night with a gate.

But residents said children from the neighborhood use the route to walk to school and they take it to patronize other businesses in the center.

The residents had the backing of city Planning Department staff, who cited many of the same concerns.

After the meeting, Lyles said RonCo Investments would not appeal the commission’s decision to the Amarillo City Commission.

The company does have the option of locating in the center — with the same hours — if it alters plans to open more of a restaurant-bar, city planning Director Kelley Shaw said. But no more than 50 percent of the establishment’s sales could be derived from alcohol.

“We’re debating whether to do that or just forget it,” he said.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Amarillo Globe-News, Texas

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