Norfolk looks to shut down 2 night clubs following complaints of violence

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Two nightclubs may have served their last drink as Norfolk City Council considers shutting them down following complaints that they’ve become “magnets for violence.”

Culture Lounge & Restaurant at 814 Granby St. in the Neon district and Origami Asian Bistro at 5957 E. Virginia Beach Boulevard near Military Circle both are up for revocation hearings Tuesday.

Resolutions drafted by the city attorney’s office state the city “has received evidence that one or more of the conditions made part of the Conditional Use Permit granted” have been violated.

While specific examples of those violations were not included in city council materials, in the past several months, neighbors of both businesses have brought plenty of complaints of their own.

Gunfire has occurred in the parking lots of both businesses within the last year and a half according to Norfolk Police Department data.

Following a shootout on Aug. 12 on Granby Street, Thomas Morrisette, owner of the nearby Museum Apartments, spoke in front of City Council saying the Neon district business owners were at their “breaking point.”

“It wasn’t the first time, but the last of a long list of gunfire, vandalism and noise disturbances,” Morrisette said. “And it started two weeks after Culture nightclub opened … we’ve suffered three years of culture’s ‘culture’.”

Culture, owned by Michael Copeland, opened in 2018.

“My tenants witnessed chaos,” Morrisette said in his August speech to City Council. “When they realized what was going on they were all ducking and hiding. Bullets were flying everywhere. They are now in fear for their lives. They want to break their leases and move out. Find a safer place to live. And I can’t blame them. What am I supposed to do? How many deaths will it take to remove the magnet of violence?”

Morrisette asked for City Council to revoke Culture’s conditional use permit that allows it to operate a nightclub.

A month before, City Council, by a 5-3 vote, approved the conditional use permit for the continued operation of Origami. Charla Smith Worley who lives nearby said disorder had spilled over to the neighborhood.

“The lack of commitment to safety on apart of the owners and management profound enough that this business is now a concern for our community,” Worley said to City Council.

In July, city planning staff found there had been multiple shots fired calls in the last year as well as disorderly disturbance calls to clear crowds. There have also been violations from the fire marshal’s office for not having proper occupancy limit postings.

Co-owners Sedric Hill and Akil Bookert have been involved with the nightclub since 2016, while Adrian Zhang has been involved since 2014 according to city records.

A 2017 special exemption to operate the nightclub expired, yet the business remained open.

Del. Don Scott, (D-Portsmouth) acting as their attorney did not return requests for comment Monday but in front of City Council in July, promised to work with the owners to correct issues and update the city quarterly.

Scott was forthcoming in pointing out that he doesn’t believe the business will be void of issues. He also doesn’t think the business should be blamed for all of them.

“If every business was shut down because somebody fired a weapon outside, I’d have to move out of my house,” Scott said.

Vice Mayor Martin Thomas, Councilman Tommy Smigiel and Councilwoman Courtney Doyle voted against approving the special exception for nightclub operations while Mayor Kenny Alexander and council members Paul Riddick, Mamie Johnson, Danica Royster and Andria McClellan voted in favor.

However, McClellan made her vote with a warning.

“This is a really tough one for me. I feel like they already have two strikes. I vote aye, but I don’t want to see a third strike,” McClellan said.

No council members returned requests for comment Monday.

Kevin Martingayle, retained Monday for Culture, said Norfolk’s is pursuing an unfair process.

“There are zero violations for ABC, zero laws broken,” Martingayle said. “Why do certain nightclubs get victimized like this?”

The public hearings begin at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Norfolk City Hall.

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