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Board clears way for video lottery machines downtown

June 07, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A Martinsburg restaurateur jumped through 33 hoops Tuesday on her way to receiving approval from the city's zoning board to install video lottery machines in her restaurant, after arguing that her application was filed before the adoption of a new ordinance regulating them.

The city's Board of Zoning Appeals voted 4-1 to approve a request by Red Wolf Grill manager Cherry Crawford for 33 variances from requirements of the city's new video lottery ordinance to install three limited video lottery machines in the restaurant she operates at 131 S. Queen St. The board made the decision despite an opinion by the group's legal counsel, who told them the machines must aleady be in use to be exempted from the new regulation.

"(The applicant's request) may have been submitted between the first and final reading of the ordinance, but the machines weren't in place, so technically it's not a grandfathered use," counsel Andy Blake told board members before their vote.

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Under the terms of the ordinance, an establishment must be more than 1,000 feet away from churches, schools, public parks or playgrounds, government buildings or existing gambling establishments.

The City Council adopted the new regulation Nov. 28, 2005.

Crawford, who told board members the addition of video lottery terminals are planned as one of several possible activities to draw people to the restaurant, said a delay in the receipt of the company's application by the West Virginia Lottery Commission gave the impression that a license had not been sought until after the adoption of the city's new ordinance.

Crawford said the application, which she said was sent out before that year's Thanksgiving weekend, was first submitted to the machines' distributor before being forwarded to the state lottery commission.

"We were completely compliant but it did not get there in time for your ordinance," Crawford said.

In a veiled challenge to the new ordinance, board member Matthew Coffey said the addition of the machines would not be to the detriment of the downtown.

"I don't think we have to worry about street crime or other negative effects this ordinance was designed to avoid. I don't think this is going to be a problem for the city," said Coffey, who indicated that the potential failure of the restaurant would be "another nail in the coffin" for efforts to revitalize the city's urban center.

The board set the stage for approving the restaurant's request in February after failing to pass a motion to uphold a decision by the city's planning department to reject a December application to appear before it.

At that meeting, board members allowed the restaurateur to seek the variance request after Crawford told them that much money and effort had already been expended preparing for the addition of the machines.

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