Following zoning dispute, planners to consider letting East Lawrence bar open up again

photo by: Kim Callahan

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

A longtime family-run tavern in East Lawrence that was denied the ability to reopen now has a second chance to make its case.

In March, city planners determined that the former Charlie’s East Side Grill & Bar, 900 Pennsylvania St., had forfeited the grandfathered tavern use that had allowed it to operate despite zoning that disallowed such use. Members of the Del Campo family, who own the building and have operated the business for more than 30 years, appealed the decision to the Board of Zoning Appeals, which voted unanimously Thursday that planners should reconsider their decision.

The property is within the general industrial zoning district, and city planners determined that the tavern use — now bar/lounge use under the new zoning code — had been forfeited because the Del Campos had ceased operating the business for more than a year. Under the 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 use. Planners cited the fact that the bar’s cereal malt beverage license had not been renewed for several years and that no building permits had been filed that supported the Del Campo family’s claims that they have been working on repairs required to reopen the business.

“Between 12/31/2014 and the present, the owner made no concerted effort to obtain another CMB license,” the staff analysis from planners states.

The building is a two-story limestone structure thought to have been constructed in 1855, according to a city staff report to the board. Though Charlie’s East Side closed about five years ago, the business’ namesake, Charlie Del Campo, said that was because a health inspector had determined several repairs were needed in order for the business to continue operating. Del Campo told the board he had been working on the repairs, which he said weren’t of the nature that required a building permit. However, he said time spent working other jobs, an injury he suffered and financial issues all resulted in the extended closure of the business. He said it was always his intent to reopen.

“I was trying to do everything on my own, so it took much longer,” Del Campo said. Del Campo also said that because the repairs were not done, he would not have been able to renew the cereal malt beverage license.

April Del Campo, Charlie Del Campo’s niece, told the board that in addition to the work her uncle did on his own, the family had hired others to do more than $10,000 in repairs, including work on the roof, deck, stairs and floors. April Del Campo said she felt the business had been a town staple and brought some diversity to East Lawrence, but that because of a medical condition and financial struggles, it seemed the family’s work was being washed away.

“So we would appreciate if the (board) could consider keeping our family building and establishment the same as it had always been,” she said.

City planner Luke Mortensen noted to the board that the Del Campos had submitted photos of the building to attempt to show that some repairs had been made that they said constituted a concerted effort to maintain the use. However, Mortensen said that the level of detail that the Del Campos had provided the board was not provided to city planners and receipts had not been submitted. In response to an inquiry from the board, April Del Campo said she had receipts for the work and that more detailed information about the repairs could be provided.

Board member Greg Gardner said it seemed to him that city planners had been focused on the lapsed license in making their determination, but that perhaps that focus was wrong because the repairs needed to be made before the business could attempt to regain its license. Other board members largely agreed, and the board voted unanimously to return the item to city staff for additional consideration.

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