Ventnor Coffee to apply for variances

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VENTNOR – A local business cited for offering music at its neighborhood establishment has withdrawn its request for an interpretation of the city’s zoning ordinance and decided instead to apply for a full site plan approval, including use and parking variances.

Supporters who attended the Zoning Board meeting held at the Ventnor Educational Community Complex Wednesday, March 19 offered a collective gasp when Ventnor Coffee, operating at 108 N. Dorset Ave., withdrew its request for board’s interpretation of a coffee shop.

Attorney Brian Callaghan of Thompson & Thompson of Atlantic City, who represents coffee shop owners Christine Pagano and Michael Einwechter, informed the board that after discussing their options, his clients agreed that presenting a full site plan and getting use and parking variances at the next meeting would be a better option for everyone.

The city’s Code Enforcement Officer Jimmie Agnesino cited the couple for operating a place of assembly and told them that music is not permissible in the Commercial Zone. He said they would need a use variance and a parking variance to continue offering live bands, open mic nights and other art related activities at the coffee shop.

The couple disagreed with Agnesino’s assessment and requested that the board provide an interpretation of the city’s definition of a coffee shop. Callaghan called three witnesses at the Feb. 19 meeting, including restaurant critic Ed Hitzel, who provided a definition of a coffee shop he gleaned from coffee shop owners around South Jersey.

Along with an explanation of the relief from zoning requirements the business is requesting, the public will get its chance to weigh-in on the proposal. Because of the large contingent of Ventnor Coffee supporters, the board could chose to limit their comments to just a few minutes, although everyone who wants to testify for or against Ventnor Coffee’s proposal should be heard, the board’s attorney John Rosenberger said.

“We got a lot of support from the public, which is a good thing,” Einwechter said after the crowd disbursed. “Now, everyone will be heard and hopefully, we will get everything we need.”

Einwechter said the couple is willing to limit occupancy at the shop to under 49 people, which will eliminate the need to make expensive repairs to the property.

“As long as we keep it under 49 people, we won’t have to do anything to the building,” he said.

Einwechter said supporters have stepped forward to help make the full site plan approval process affordable for the couple.

The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 16 at the Ventnor Educational Community Complex auditorium.

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