LJ Private Clubs

Terry Blevins plays pool on April 27 at Rickochet Billiards in Lake Jackson.

LAKE JACKSON — Rather than defining “membership club” in Lake Jackson’s zoning ordinance, as City Council has discussed for more than a month, they will begin the process to remove the words completely.

The issue arose because several establishments have come into the city as membership clubs, then functioned as private clubs under Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission code, and a couple more businesses are planning to open in the city, The Facts previously reported.

The lack of definition of membership club has allowed establishments to come in that haven’t gone through the proper vetting process with the public and council, City Manager Bill Yenne said, referring to the private clubs that look like bars, but technically are not. Bars are not allowed by the city’s code of ordinances.

Though all current establishments will be grandfathered into whatever the new ordinance may detail, the removal of “membership club” could prevent more similar businesses from coming in under the membership club designation, Yenne said.

“That seems cleaner because we sure did struggle,” he said, referring to a two-hour public planning commission hearing that ended with recommending the creation of separate definitions for membership club and private club within the code of ordinances.

The city’s zoning ordinance is by prescription, meaning only the types of businesses listed are eligible for a certificate of occupancy in Lake Jackson. This type of code provides the opportunity for specific businesses, such as a cigar bar, to be added to the code of ordinances if not already listed, Yenne said.

“Membership club” likely was included in the code for fraternal organizations such as Freemasons, officials have said.

“All we’re trying to do is close this back door,” Yenne said. “Get rid of this term that has no definition and go back to what it was intended to be.”

“Membership club” are two of the vaguest words when listing what is allowed in the C-1 commercial zone in the code of ordinances, Councilman Matthew Broaddus said at Monday’s meeting. Though there are no definitions for other words such as “restaurant,” membership clubs are more vague, he said.

“I know what a medical office is, but not a membership club,” Broaddus said.

Council unanimously agreed to initiate the process to remove the words from the code of ordinances.

The process with two public hearings, in front of the council and planning commission, has to start over for transparency reasons, Yenne said. It will be listed on the meeting agendas that the public hearings are in reference to removing membership club from the ordinance rather than define it, he said.

The public hearing will likely be added to the planning commission’s July meeting agenda, since it is too late for June, Yenne said. That meeting should be July 2.

Three members of the public spoke during the public hearing Monday, including Kyle Devine, co-owner of The Fill Station in downtown Lake Jackson.

When Devine asked whether a restaurant would be affected if it had to apply for a private club license in the future because of its ratio of alcohol to food sales, city staff said as long as it still functions as a restaurant, it will fit that code by Lake Jackson’s standards.

“As long as you still have a full-functioning kitchen, you still fall under as a restaurant,” Councilman Gerald Roznovsky said. “Regardless of what TABC license you have, you’re still a restaurant.”

It’s based on the primary purpose of the business, City Secretary Alice Rodgers said. The city does not measure the food to alcohol ratio of each business, she said.

Down the road, if a business wants to apply for an alcohol license and not serve food, that would go through a public hearing process to determine where and whether it would fit in the ordinance, Councilman Vinay Singhania said.

“It would be on an individual case basis rather than a blanket, open statement that currently exists,” he said. “That’s the goal.”

Maddy McCarty is a reporter for The Facts. Contact her at 979-237-0151.

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