LAKE JACKSON — Despite alternate ideas offered during a public hearing, Lake Jackson Planning Commission decided to remove “membership club” from the city’s zoning ordinance.
This decision would have to be adopted by City Council, then new businesses classified only as membership clubs would be effectively prohibited from opening in the city, since its zoning code is by prescription.
However, the city looks at primary purpose of a business when classifying it in the zoning code, City Manager Bill Yenne said at Tuesday’s meeting. If someone asks for something that fits the code, such as a billiard hall, that is fine, he said. It they want something not in the code, such as a cigar bar, they could go through the process to determine whether the city and its residents would like to add it to the code, he said.
“It seems cleaner than struggling with definitions of private club and membership club,” Yenne said. “I know we’re going to get off into the weeds on alcohol again, but this is a zoning issue.”
Kyle Devine, a partner at The Fill Station in downtown Lake Jackson, said it’s “disheartening to see what’s happening” since a number of bar and restaurant owners have brought tax dollars, jobs and life back to downtown.
He asked why city officials don’t consider amending the “membership club” to Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s definition of a private club. That is essentially the loophole city staff have talked about for months.
Lake Jackson is a dry city, which means there cannot be bars or liquor stores. But TABC private clubs are allowed to serve alcohol in the city because they’re classified differently under state law, are not permitted to operate at a profit and have come into the zoning ordinance under the “membership club” designation.
Those include Brody’s Blacksmith Shop, Club 332, Rickochet Billiards and now Royal Haze in the first block of Circle Way, which was licensed May 24, according to TABC records.
While city staff say they have no problem with these businesses, they say it wasn’t what “membership club” in the code was intended to cover. Veteran and service organizations were more likely the intent, Yenne said Tuesday.
Devine said he’d like to see businesses still be able to open downtown under the private club license, since it is sometimes difficult for businesses to make 40 percent of their sales from food rather than alcohol. That’s not reflective of The Fill Station, he said, adding he is speaking on behalf of future businesses.
Autumn Barrier, owner of Wine Revue in downtown, shared similar sentiments, saying it’s “antiquated thinking” to not want to have these businesses thrive, and the city could tell her they don’t have a place for her if TABC asks her business to get a private club license in the future.
As long as businesses still have a functioning kitchen and serve meals, they are still restaurants as far as the city is concerned, Yenne said. The city is not concerned about percentages of food sales or what type of TABC license a business has, he said.
Devine asked if the city closes this loophole, what will prevent other businesses from coming in under another loophole. He echoed Councilman Matt Broaddus’ example of a laundromat that serves alcohol with a private club TABC license.
“That’s just life,” City Attorney Sherri Russell said. “We’ll close them if we find them.”
The idea to remove membership club came from Planning Commissioner Brenda Colgrove during a May public hearing.
Planning Commissioner Joe Rinehart said he agrees with her.
“Let’s get rid of this and start over,” Rinehart said. “We’ve wasted too much time and there’s too much ambiguity to this.”
Rinehart moved to remove membership club from the zoning ordinance, where it was listed in zones B-1 neighborhood business, B-2 central business, C-1 commercial and R-4 multifamily residential.
The motion passed unanimously with the absence of Commissioners Jeffrey Gilbert and John Fey.