Rezoning commercial social club to a restaurant

by Amaya
(Wilmington DE)

Visitor Question: I'm turning a commercial building that used to be a social club and other public events building into a restaurant. I have a meeting with the zoning board. I was wondering what questions they may ask me and what to expect. I've already sent the site plan to them. This meeting will be held via Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Editors Reply: Answering your last statement first, we are somewhat sorry you will have to undertake this hearing via videoconference. We often think that sincerity on the part of a business owner goes a long way toward establishing credibility with a zoning board and assuring the most favorable outcome possible based on the facts of the case. But that is the way it is right now. Just remember to exaggerate your positive facial expressions a bit and to test your background on Zoom in advance.

We think your chances of obtaining permission to switch from a social club to a restaurant are excellent. The performance of the two activities is similar, and in fact if your restaurant emphasizes food and is not simply a bar being disguised as a restaurant, you may be a far better neighbor than the social club was.

Find out the attitude that your community took toward the former social club. If they were bad neighbors, or if they often were in trouble with the city, use that point to your advantage by showing how much better you will be for the neighborhood.

Leaving that aside, here are some common questions that future restaurant owners are asked in a zoning hearing:

1. What will your hours be?

2. What type of cuisine will you serve?

3. Are you serving alcohol? If so, how far along in the permitting process are you?

4. How many seats will you have?

5. How much of the square footage will be devoted to dining space, kitchen, and storage?

6. Who are your expected customers? Are they strictly local from your neighborhood, or are you promoting yourselves citywide? Will there be tourists? Will there be college students?

7. How are you providing the amount of parking required under the zoning ordinance?

8. What type and size of sign will you be erecting? Will you be using any temporary signs?

9. Will you have a drive-through window? If so, you may be quizzed extensively about its location, traffic pattern, and hours of operation. Neighbors often object if the drive-through is open during what they consider sleeping hours.

10. Will you be doing any outdoor smoking or grilling?

11. Will you have outdoor seating, and if so, during what hours? Will outdoor seating require an order of food?

12. What is your experience in the restaurant business?

Beyond that, the possible questions are infinite, but if you have a command of these facts, you will do well. Be sure to demonstrate that you have read the parts of the zoning ordinance that pertain to you, and act knowledgeable about the health department requirements for restaurants as well.

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