After tabling several applications during September and October meetings, the Danville Planning Commission recommended a few special-use permits for recreational indoor gaming — machines that have the look and feel of illegal slot machines — while denying and tabling others Tuesday.
The move comes on the heels of last week’s close referendum allowing an off-track betting facility that will feature historical horse racing machines, which also resemble slot machines.
In total, four special-use permits were recommended for approval, seven were denied and seven were postponed. The commission had originally tabled the requests because of insufficient information from the applicants, particularly regarding parking lots, certificates of occupancy and other indicators that the buildings were up to code.
The applicants denied a special-use permit had not taken the necessary steps — such as obtaining an updated B-Business Certificate of Occupancy or updating parking plans — to meet the city’s zoning requirements.
Kenneth Gillie, director of community development, said the city simply wants to make sure each establishment is up to code before it expands.
“These items should be addressed, period ... and the owners should be doing this on their own,” he said.
Each of the applications that were approved and denied will be sent to city council for a vote at the next meeting, while the planning commission will re-hear the tabled cases at a later meeting.
Commissioner Harold Garrison voted against the outright denial, even for applicants who had not taken the necessary steps to zone their business correctly. He cited worries about the fact the businesses would be forced to invest significant money without the guarantee that the special-use permit would be granted in the end.
“If you can’t guarantee me that I can have my machines, I wouldn’t go do this,” he said.
Attorney Fielding Douthat, representing several applicants, felt the same way.
“These are expensive procedures to do when you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.
Even though the special-use permit for one business was tabled as the owner works to get the building up to code and properly zoned, Chase Reeves, representing one of the convenience stores, said $27,000 has already been invested and the total will eventually reach $60,000.
“We’re willing to spend that money and take that risk,” Reeves said.
All of these investments are coming with serious uncertainty. For one, city council unanimously denied the lone application for special-use permit for recreational indoor gaming that came up for a vote last week.
Another factor increasing the risk for business owners is the question of the gaming machines’ legality — they resemble slot machines, which are currently illegal in Virginia, except there is an element of “skill” where decisions a player makes can impact the outcome. A lawsuit is underway against the commonwealth attorney in Charlottesville from several game manufacturers after the city banned such machines.
For now, operating the machines requires a special-use permit in Danville because they are commercial, indoor and recreational. The legality of the machines and distinctions between games of chance and skill is something for the commonwealth’s attorney’s office to determine.
Commissioner Tommy Dodson was the lone voice of opposition against the three applicants who did receive approval from the commission.
While most of the applications sought between one and 10 machines per convenience store, one was for a proposed adult gaming facility that would include 50 machines at 401 S. Ridge St., currently the building for Something Special Restaurant and Lounge. That request was tabled over parking concerns.
Michelle Adkins, one of the partners looking to open the establishment, questioned some of the requirements since the business will not offer any services or product other than gaming.
“Our only service that we will be providing at this place is gaming, adult gaming,” she said.
Adkins added the facility will have strict security, would require identification from everyone who entered, would not allow weapons of any kind and would not serve alcohol.
Two neighbors expressed disdain at the idea of having an adult gaming facility next to their home.
Sandra Gannon, who lives across the street, said the previous tenants caused serious disruption and she sees the same happening if the proposed adult gaming facility were allowed to open.
“There is no reason to believe that allowing unsupervised gaming will lead to improvement of the property,” she said.
The ongoing question of indoor recreational gaming started with an anonymous complaint, which led to zoning inspectors shutting down dozens of machines that were already operational. Without a special-use permit, operating the games could be a misdemeanor because of contradictions to the city zoning ordinances.
Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.