Farmville ends exception for internet cafés

FARMVILLE — New internet sweepstakes cafés will no longer be allowed within the city limits of Farmville.

The Farmville Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on Monday to amend its town ordinance that allowed internet cafés as a special exception in the highway business district.

The action followed a recommendation by the Farmville Planning Board. The members, who also serve on the Board of Adjustment, denied a request last month by an applicant requesting a special exception to open an internet café in town.

Four of the members attended Monday’s meeting, including chairman Tim Reida, vice chairman Harry Albritton Jr., Frank Bradham and Elmer Flake.

The definition and interpretation of the law remains “unsettled” throughout the state, according to Farmville Manager David Hodgkins.

Farmville once was home to three internet cafés, but when the state ruled such businesses illegal they were shut down, Hodgkins said.

Several businesses have found loopholes in the law and several counties in North Carolina are seeing internet cafés reopen. Such cafés are now operating in Grifton and Fountain.

The law is filled with gray areas, Hodgkins said.

“The planning board recommends the special exception be removed from the town ordinance until (the legality of internet cafés) is settled in the courts or by the General Assembly,” Hodgkins told commissioners.

A bill regarding such businesses in pending in the General Assembly.

As cafés have crept back into Pitt County, several owners have expressed an interest in opening in Farmville.

“If you eliminate them as a special exception, the town can no longer except applications (for such businesses),” Hodgkins told commissioners.

The board held a public hearing on the matter. Farmville resident Sophie Szymeczek asked what happens to the cafés now operating in town.

Only one internet café is operational, per a special consent order agreement, Hodgkins said.

The agreement was entered to avoid a potential lawsuit, Hodgkins said.

This café, located in the former Hardee’s building, has strict guidelines. It is limited to four gaming machines and may not conduct outside advertisement to attract customers, Hodgkins said.

If internet cafés are eliminated as a special exception, this business may remain open, he said.

“It will not affect the one in operation now because that is part of a consent order and it supersedes zoning authority,” he said.

Commissioner Jamin Dixon made a motion to eliminate internet cafés as a special exception in the town ordinance, which passed unanimously.

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