Board of Zoning Appeals upholds decision that says East Lawrence bar cannot reopen

photo by: Kim Callahan

The former Charlie’s East Side Grill & Bar, 900 Pennsylvania St., pictured on Thursday, May 7, 2020.

The City of Lawrence Board of Zoning Appeals has voted to uphold a decision that says a longtime family-run tavern in East Lawrence cannot reopen.

The question of whether the former Charlie’s East Side Grill & Bar, 900 Pennsylvania St., had forfeited its grandfathered tavern use has gone back and forth between city planning staff and the board twice over the past six months. After the board previously voted in May for city planners to reconsider their decision, the board voted unanimously as part of its meeting Thursday evening to uphold the determination that a bar can’t reopen in that location because it let its special allowance lapse for too long.

Charlie’s closed about five years ago, and under city code, a use is considered abandoned if it has been discontinued for a period of 12 months or more and no concerted effort has been undertaken by the owner to continue the grandfathered use. At issue was whether work on the building qualified as a concerted effort by the owner to continue the grandfathered tavern use, now bar/lounge use under the new zoning code, even though the bar’s liquor license had lapsed. The bar is owned by the Del Campo family, and Charlie Del Campo told the board Thursday that financial and health issues had prevented him from reopening the bar sooner, but that regular work had been done on the property over the years to bring the bar up to code so it could reopen.

“When I closed up, I was expecting to reopen but I had to bring everything up to date, and I tried to do it by working and doing most of the work myself,” Del Campo said.

The family is working with Adam Williams of Williams Management on the project, and Williams told the board that it really comes down to the 12-month timeframe and what qualifies as a concerted effort. Williams said a concerted effort means different things to different companies, and that the code does not specify that a liquor license or a building permit is required.

“A lot of things for small companies are done that don’t necessarily get a proposal or an invoice; there is a lot of sweat equity that goes into small businesses,” Williams said.

When the board previously called for planners to reconsider their decision, it also requested that the Del Campos provide receipts to the city that indicated that work on the building had continued over the years. While some invoices were supplied for bigger improvements, such as the roof, there was a period of year that did not have documented evidence of repairs. Del Campo told the board Thursday that he did not have receipts to represent all of the work because he did some of the interior work himself using materials his family already had.

The board ultimately voted to support city planners’ decision, though several board members said it was unfortunate that they didn’t have the documentation needed to reverse the decision and allow the bar to reopen.

“I really understand the challenges for small business and I feel really bad that the property owner couldn’t provide any proof that he did work during that first year,” board member Greg Gardner said. “So while I want to, I can’t find any error in the planning director’s affirmation of the previous decision.”

The property, located across the street from the Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence, is within the general industrial zoning district, which doesn’t allow the bar/lounge use. Planning and Development Director Jeff Crick told the Journal-World in an email that some of the common permitted uses include day care centers, social service agencies, construction services, recycling facilities, veterinary offices, vehicle service and professional offices. Regarding potential action by the property owners to reverse the decision, Crick said they could file an action in Douglas County District Court within 30 days of the board’s vote to determine the reasonableness of the final decision.


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