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Deadline Looms for Dancing Permits

City Hall gives clubs one week to comply with new dance hall ordinance.

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City Hall's crackdown on club-related violence has been fierce and swift. As for the process to comply with the new public dance hall law passed by City Council — not so much.

The ordinance requires that existing nightclubs and other establishments apply for a public dance hall permit, which also holds business owners accountable for actions outside their clubs, within 60 days.

It was passed Sept. 13, but the first letters detailing how nightclubs and other establishments can obtain the newly required permits went out Nov. 5. The deadline to submit the permit applications is Nov. 13, with the penalty for noncompliance a class 3 misdemeanor.

"From my understanding, nobody has been notified," says Charles Willis, executive director of Citizens Against Crime, who's met with city officials on behalf of club owners and music promoters. A few of them received the letters over the weekend, but as of early Monday afternoon Willis said he'd yet to receive anything from City Hall.

Some people are frustrated that the city's moved so slowly in outlining the process. After a spate of nightclub-related shootings this spring, council and the mayor's office grappled for months to enact the new law with a host of requirements and restrictions for nightclub operators.

The ordinance requires "any person" seeking the permit to submit a "written application" to the city "on forms prescribed by the chief administrative officer" and pay a $100 filing fee. Until late last week, it seems, those forms didn't exist.

Now business owners have less than a week to submit their applications, which also require copies of the owner's certificate of occupancy, ABC license and a business license, among other things.

Michael Lafayette, a local lawyer who represents more than 30 nightclub operators and related businesses, says he's been trying to reach the mayor's office for weeks seeking information on the application forms — to no avail.

"I haven't received anything," Lafayette says early Monday afternoon. "I have left phone messages and e-mails numerous times." He says he started inquiring about the permit application in late September. "I have only been working on the assumption that since no application is ready that they can't enforce" the ordinance, he says.

A City Hall source says 400 letters went out to businesses late last week after news media inquiries into the application. Another nightclub-related shooting incident Nov. 1 outside Have a Nice Day CafAc in Shockoe Bottom also may have prompted the push.

A Style Weekly reporter attempted to obtain a copy of a dance hall permit application from the city's office of permits and inspections on Nov. 3. None was available.

Repeated attempts to reach the mayor's press office for comment were unsuccessful. City Councilman Charles Samuels, who led the push for the dance hall ordinance, had little to say about missing permit applications.

"Legislators legislate," he says. "We can't do the enforcement, too."

Update: City spokesman Mike Wallace e-mailed the dance hall application and a fact sheet to Style late Monday afternoon. Business owners must submit their applications to the office of permits and inspections at City Hall by Nov. 13.

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