Owner of Black-owned Norfolk business calls council decision not to renew license ‘premeditated’

Norfolk, Va. (The Wave) — The owner of a black-owned restaurant/nightclub on Granby Street, who was not granted a renewal of his business license by the Norfolk City Council Tuesday night, called the decision “premeditated,” he said. Get punished for a simple mistake.

On Tuesday, he shared with WAVY leaked emails showing communications between city officials before the eventual denial of the permit, including one that showed at least one council member had resolved issues based on what other officials said had been resolved. Reason for downvoting.

“I’m a mess. Honestly, I’m surprised…but then again, I’m really not,” said Clarence “CJ” Reynolds, co-owner of Caior Bistro & Social in the NEON district, who is seeking to renew his existing license .

Council members Paul Riddick and Danica Royster were the only two on the council to back Reynolds’ vote to approve the permit Tuesday night. Now, just before the holidays, Reynolds says he can’t even reopen the restaurant because of rejections.

The move comes after council Identical permits revoked for several downtown area businesses This year, citing the likelihood of future violence Multiple high-profile shootings in downtown 2022. Most of these businesses are black-owned and have mostly black customers.

Reynolds, a mogul and music fan, said he poured more than $100,000 into starting the business, which will open in 2021 in Cinco de Mayo. He owns the company with his partner Serena Harris.

Caior operates primarily as a restaurant, but opens late on weekends and offers nightlife. Reynolds said he was there every day and he never got into a fight or called the police.

“I really like customer service…I really like vibin…just being with people. I saw the development of Granby Street and I said, ‘Well, this is going to be a great place to put people in Have a good time in a safe environment with a drink. …always just right.”

In an interview, Reynolds emphasized that Tuesday night’s vote was to renew his conditional use permit, which expires this fall. CUP is a Norfolk regulation that is required if a business wants to offer so-called nightlife; usually required to be open until 2am and offer a DJ.

In the months leading up to the renewal vote, Reynolds said he did everything the city wanted, from taking down about 7 feet of privacy fences to removing colored stickers on the fronts of businesses.

After the fence was removed, the city requested that surveillance cameras be installed on the site, Reynolds said. He later agreed to stay open until midnight, a deal struck with the Norfolk Planning Commission after he narrowly won approval 3-2 in November this year.

He invested more than $25,000 in additional renovations—and paid about $20,000 in rent while he was closed. During that time, he also retained about 15 to 16 employees.

All told, he said he paid about $80,000 in total in hopes of getting approval for a renewal, though he doubts he’ll get CUP. He said his landlord told him in July that someone from the city called and said they wouldn’t approve it.

“[Norfolk Current Planning Manager Susan Pollock-Hart] Keep saying you have to comply,” Reynolds said.

However, he said he later won the blessing of the Norfolk Downtown Citizens League — who initially agreed to the CUP in September, but according to an email forwarded to him about the consent, Reynolds made the changes — until November. 15 met with Pollock-Hart two days before Reynolds met with the Norfolk Planning Commission.

Reynolds said it was related to an LLC name change that was done before the company opened. Reynolds said there was a typo in the original LLC name, and his attorneys made the change in December 2020.

“During my two full years in business [Pollock-Hart] This was never mentioned to me before…until the week of my planning committee meeting,” Reynolds said. “I basically walked into the meeting blind and had to cry out my eyes to get a [3-2 vote] then on the same day [Pollock-Hart] Call for meeting, Norfolk City Center Civic League withdraw their consent [that would have allowed Reynolds to renew]”

Reynolds also shared with 10 On Your Side an email that DNCL Chair Lelia Vann distributed to Pollock-Hart and other city officials at 11:30 p.m. on Nov. 11. The 14th, the day before Reynolds met Pollock Hart.

In it, Vann said DNCL “no longer contested the CUP renewal” and said that since the initial approval, “we have learned of multiple irregularities at Caior, including overcapacity, zoning, ownership issues and NPD service calls.”

Reynolds disputed the allegations, especially the service calls. He also said the overcapacity subpoena had been dismissed and that he and Harris were the only two owners of the business.

Reynolds added that he wanted to share his story and set the record straight at Tuesday’s council meeting, but was not allowed to speak despite being signed.

Reynolds’ lawyer, Steve Heretick, did speak on his behalf and asked for the matter to proceed, saying the council had received “inaccurate” information about police calls to Caior’s address. He said he thought he had cleared the information on November 1. 17 Program Committee meeting.

“There are no calls servicing this particular business… [owner] CJ Reynolds is an on-site manager who is open every day and there is no police call service,” Heretick said in a follow-up interview with WAVY on Wednesday.

Calls, including reports of gunshots and stabbings, were actually made to nearby areas, such as an adjacent city parking lot, Heretick said. On at least two occasions, the store was not open when police were called, he said. His office plans to use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain detailed police reports in the meantime to clear records.

Assemblywoman Andria McClellan said at Tuesday’s meeting that she understood what Heretick had said about service calls, stressing instead that she was more concerned about restaurants’ business practices.

“I’m really bothered by the back and forth of ownership…it’s weird. The business entity is dissolved, then CUP is created for one, and then the other is dissolved and the other is picked up. It’s very, very, very bad practice,” McClay Len said as he voted against the continuation. She also voted against the CUP resolution.

However, in an email to Norfolk City Council on Monday, December 12, Norfolk City Center Council Chair Mary Miller. On Aug. 12, the day before the vote, Miller wrote: “According to staff reports, the ownership issue has been resolved.”

Reynolds said he received that email from a whistleblower. WAVY has contacted McClellan twice for comment but has not heard back.

In addition, Heretick places overall responsibility on the CUP for denying Pollock-Hart and her staff, saying they had omitted council documents that had been shared with the planning committee.

“All we can do is wonder why the planners and Susan Pollock basically lied to the city council? And don’t give us the opportunity to address misrepresentations in the same way the planning committee does, by the way, over Susan’s objections Approved by the Planning Commission.”

Heretick said he believes the issue of Norfolk leaders shutting down nightlife is at least partly race-related.

“If you compare the treatment of white-owned businesses in downtown Norfolk versus how black-owned businesses are treated now, I think there’s a significant difference,” Heretick said. Rep. Riddick, who held his final board meeting on Tuesday, and the NAACP echoed similar sentiments.

Regardless of the motive, Reynolds said, “I just want the city of Norfolk to know that their judgment hurt people, it’s a personal judgment because it’s business, it’s personal, the way some people in the city council acted …I just want them to understand that they’re making a joke of people’s livelihoods … rather than shutting down their institutions the way people are shutting down, it’s better to have a conversation with them.”

Reynolds added that he wants more communication and fairness in the overall decision-making when it comes to things like conditional use licenses.

“The city of Norfolk isn’t fair, they’re not transparent, they don’t reach out to small business owners unless you might have a connection to them,” Reynolds said Wednesday. “I had the same concerns as anyone on Granby Street: violence, car theft, burglary … I was a neighbor until I became a business owner … no one ever contacted me,” McClellan and Congresswoman Courtney mentioned Doyle’s name.

“They do what they get with the information. They don’t contact the business owner, they don’t expect any type of clarification … it’s not fair,” Reynolds added.

WAVY contacted the city for comments from Pollock-Hart.city ​​spokesman Follow council’s comments on Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, Legacy Lounge, another nightclub whose license was revoked, This week officially concluded their appeals process with the city. judge recently Temporary injunction refusing to allow Scotty Quixx to reopen as nightclub After the Granby Street business sued the city.

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