Given about a week to comply with the city's new dance-hall ordinance, business owners have been given an informal reprieve by City Hall.
The deadline to submit applications for dance hall permits was Nov. 13, but the mayor's office is giving a 30-day grace period to restaurants, club owners and other purveyors of dancing.
The extension comes after a week of hand-wringing by club operators who were given little time to comply with the law, which is meant to crack down on violence and hold owners accountable for actions outside their clubs.
City Council approved the new regulations for clubs on Sept. 13, but the mayor's office didn't make the permit forms available until Nov. 5, when it sent out about 400 letters to restaurants, nightclubs and other business owners notifying them of the deadline and the application process.
Failing to submit the permit application by Nov. 13 was to result in a class-three misdemeanor, but for now the city plans to issue warnings to businesses that haven't complied, spokesman Mike Wallace says. The grace period is intended to allow those business owners to avoid legal charges, he says.
Officials in the permits and inspections office at City Hall are informing business owners that they can submit dance hall applications without some of the required attachments — such as copies of their business licenses and assembly permits from the fire department — and giving them until Dec. 13 to catch up.
The process has so far been wholly unfair, says Michael Lafayette, a local lawyer who represents more than 30 nightclub operators and restaurants. He says submitting warning letters to restaurants and nightclubs implies they've been delinquent.
“We appreciate that the mayor's office has extended the deadline, but a warning letter is very unfair,” Lafayette says — “especially considering that City Hall obviously had not set up a process for owners to submit applications” until a week ago.
Lafayette also worries that without a formal extension, some restaurants and club owners still could be legally charged with noncompliance.
“It would seem that any violation occurring after Nov. 13. would be a violation of the ordinance and would still subject the operator to civil and perhaps criminal liability,” Lafayette says. “The problem is that there's nothing to keep city from targeting a particular operator.”
Wallace says the grace period is akin to a good faith effort by City Hall, but it's not a legal reprieve.