Dancing Now Illegal? 

The deadline for nightclubs to obtain dancing permits passes. So far, none have been issued.

It seems that Richmonders looking for a place to go dancing have fewer options.

The March 12 deadline for nightclubs to comply with the controversial dance hall ordinance has come and gone. City officials say 22 restaurants and nightclubs applied for such permits to allow dancing on their premises. Curiously, the city hasn't issued a single one.

The circumstances seem oddly familiar. The city waited until just a week before the Nov. 13 application deadline to outline the process to obtain public dance hall permits, rushing to send out notices to some 400 nightclubs, restaurants and businesses.

Passed on Sept. 13, the ordinance places on nightclub owners and operators a host of new requirements in the wake of nightclub-related violence in spring 2010. As the deadline passed, a man was shot downtown after an altercation at Aurora, a nightclub at East Grace and North Fourth streets. He died at VCU Medical Center.

Chief among the requirements, nightclubs are required to obtain dance hall permits by March 12 or face class 3 misdemeanors.

City spokesman Mike Wallace says the process of issuing permits is being held up because not all of the applications have been reviewed and approved. The owners who have submitted applications are exempt from enforcement of the ordinance in the meantime, he says. Those who haven't are in violation.

In a recent interview, however, Richmond police spokesman Gene Lepley says the department, which has been assigned to enforce the ordinance, is in the “customer-service” phase of the process.

A City Hall source says that in the subsequent weeks, officials from the city's Community Assisted Public Safety program and Richmond police armed with measuring tapes visited various nightclubs and other establishments to determine if they were required to comply with the ordinance. The law requires any establishment with more than 10 percent of its total space devoted to dancing to obtain a permit.

Michael Lafayette, a lawyer who represents some 30 different nightclub owners, says he's unaware of any nightclub being cited for operating without a permit. “I think they're still working out the kinks,” he says.

Also somewhat murky is whether the 22 owners who have submitted applications represent the entirety of establishments that need to comply with the ordinance. The city, it seems, can't say either way. “We continue to work with area businesses to ensure compliance,” Wallace says.

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