Youth center given more time to reach zoning compliance

Published 7:18 pm Friday, May 21, 2021

A youth center on Windsor Boulevard has been given more time by the Town of Windsor to proceed with zoning corrections after it was notified by the town in March that it was in violation of Windsor’s zoning ordinance. This notification came after the business had previously received approval from the town.

J & C’s Pitt and Play, located at 11339 Windsor Blvd., is owned by Jonathan Sutton, who, as noted on the company’s Facebook page, created the business for his children and the community to give them a safe and fun place to come and play. The youth center includes arcades, games, a snack bar and a private room that can be reserved for birthday parties. Russell Stephenson, from whom Sutton is leasing the space, also noted the property includes outdoor space for games, and there is even internet access, allowing youth to work on homework.

Stephenson appealed to the Windsor Town Council May 4 during the public comments portion of the meeting and recounted the story of the youth center during a May 13 interview.

He and Sutton started the process in October 2019 that led to J & C’s Pitt and Play becoming a reality.

“There was another person working for the town at the time that was their head of zoning,” Stephenson said. “So we went through the process of explaining to him what we wanted to do, and he came up and looked at the facility and thought it was a great idea to be able to do something for the youth. And so basically he told us all the things that we had to do. We complied.”

Windsor Town Manager William Saunders said a zoning permit for playroom and arcade/game room and food was issued from the town on Jan. 7, 2020.

“Once we knew that the town approved Mr. Sutton’s business as far as zoning and all, then we started preparing to get him opened up, and then COVID came along, and that shut us down till approximately June as far as opening,” Stephenson said. “We started the lease agreement in July of 2020, and we did it for two years.”

Saunders said a Certificate of Occupancy was provided by Isle of Wight County for the use of the arcades on Aug. 5, 2020.

“He was good to go,” Stephenson said, noting Sutton was hosting young people, who were taking advantage of the recreational opportunities, as well as the internet access for school.

“Everything was going well, and then the beginning of March, we got a letter saying that the town had, I guess in an error, issued him the authority to do business,” Stephenson said, adding that it was apparently not zoned properly.

Saunders said Sutton was notified in March 2021 by Windsor Interim Zoning Administrator Maxie Brown that following noise complaints, the business was researched and it was determined that the appropriate zoning for the business was Amusement Center, for which a conditional use permit was required, which had not been obtained.

Saunders indicated it is not known why the error was made.

Stephenson said both he and Sutton were surprised by the letter, so they set up a meeting with Saunders and Brown. Stephenson said the town officials told them that the business was in a line item that required it to be 250 feet away from a residence.

“And of course we’re not,” Stephenson said, adding that the corner of his office is about 25 feet from a residence, though there is a fenced partition between the commercial property and the residential area.

“So we were kind of taken aback by that because we’re like, ‘Well, why are you trying to put us in this line item that requires 250 feet, especially when it talks about mostly adult-type businesses?’” Stephenson said. “Because it mentions the word ‘adult’ in it several times.

“It does mention amusement centers, but personally, I don’t see this as an amusement center, and it wasn’t, certainly, established as an amusement center, and so I kind of disagreed with them on that part.”

Stephenson said that originally, the town gave Sutton and himself two weeks to submit paperwork for rezoning.

“And I’m like, ‘I really don’t think we need to be submitting paperwork and an $800 fee to have this rezoned when it was already done over a year ago, and it was done proper, because we made sure we did everything we were supposed to do both for the town and the county at the time,” Stephenson said.

He noted that after speaking before the Town Council on May 4, he received word that the town would be giving Sutton and himself a much more generous timetable to fix the zoning issue.

“This is a very unfortunate situation for the business owner, as well as the town,” Saunders said. “Rather than put a deadline for the business to initiate the process of the appropriate text amendment and/or conditional use permit, the town has opted to put a deadline on the back end of the process, which would allow for contracts that the business owner entered into based upon information from a town employee to run their course.”

Stephenson said Sutton has signed two-year agreements both with him and the game facility that he is renting the games from.

Saunders said the deadline on the back end of the process will be Aug. 1, 2022.

“The business would be able to continue operations until then as is,” he said. “However, should they wish to remain open beyond that, the appropriate text amendment and/or conditional use permit process would have had to have been completed.”

Stephenson said he noted to Saunders that if the Town Council sees fit, it could add a line item for a youth center without he and Sutton having to submit paperwork, and Saunders affirmed this.

“Either a citizen, or the Town Council, can initiate an application for a text amendment to the zoning ordinance,” Saunders said in a May 18 interview.

Stephenson noted that since his conversation with Saunders, he has not seen the need to do anything right away, adding, “We will probably figure out which way to go to be best for the town and the business at the same time.

“My take on it is the town has stepped up and done the best they could do at this point based on the line items they have available to put businesses into. It was kind of interesting to find out that there were absolutely no line items that covered anything dealing with the youth or a youth facility. They do have a line item for a children’s center, and then pretty much every other type of business on the line items are for adult-type businesses. So it was kind of interesting to find that out.”

One person spoke in favor of J & C’s Pitt and Play during the public comment portion of the Town Council’s May 4 meeting, and several youths who have benefited from the center were also there to support Stephenson.