By Catharin Shepard
The Hoke County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved Monday night an amendment to the county zoning ordinance that will place new restrictions on local electronic gaming businesses.
The board voted to approve an adjusted version of the proposed changes to the section of the zoning ordinance that governs the businesses. The board removed a proposed overlay district for Rockfish that would have banned the gaming parlors entirely from downtown Rockfish, and also removed other proposed measures that were not recommended by the county planning board.
From now on, the county will only consider issuing conditional use permits to applicants seeking to open an electronic gaming business on property zoned as Highway Commercial (HC). Conditional use permits require that the applicant appear before the planning board and commissioners at a public hearing, giving those boards the chance to approve or deny each individual business. Previously, the gaming businesses were permitted by right in the HC zoning district and were approved by county staff members.
Conditional use permits also require the county to notify all property owners within 500 feet of the proposed business location about the public meetings, so they can speak for or against the businesses coming to their area.
Additionally, the businesses will be subject to inspection by county inspectors every six months at a fee of $200. The commissioners plan to review each of the inspection reports, and retain the right to revoke the permit of any such business for any failure to comply with county requirements.
Commissioner Bobby Wright also proposed a motion, which passed, to increase the distance required between such businesses and churches, schools and day cares. Last year, the board decreased the distance from 500 feet to 200 feet from building wall to building wall. The commissioners reversed that decision Monday night, doubling the original required distance to 1,000 feet, measured from business wall to business wall.
Existing businesses with valid permits will be grandfathered in, county officials said.
The issue of electronic gaming businesses in Hoke County has been a matter of contention for the last several months as local citizens, many from the Rockfish community, presented concerns about potential crime at the gaming parlors. Two electronic gaming parlor operators were shot and killed in Hoke County last year
Several gaming parlor owners appeared in public hearings to speak in support of their business endeavors, refuting that their businesses attracted crime and stressing that they take security measures.
The county board placed a temporary 60-day moratorium on approving any new permits for the businesses. That moratorium is up this month and the businesses can apply for conditional use permits under the new restrictions.
Besides removing the largely unpopular proposed overlay district for Rockfish, the board did not approve several measures that were not recommended by the planning board. That included a proposal to limit the number of permits issued to such businesses to 10 total. Currently, nine gaming businesses hold permits to operate in Hoke County.
The state Supreme Court has issued a stay of a law on the books that banned the businesses. Games of skill are technically legal right now – but it’s defining a “game of skill” as opposed to gambling that is part of the confusion and disagreement behind the matter, county officials discussed at a previous meeting.
Members of the public were not allowed to speak during the board’s deliberation Monday. Public comment was allowed during the public hearing for the proposed changes, held earlier this month.