Inside music coming to Sunset Overlook?

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Sunset Overlook is back in business and looking to expand its appeal with indoor entertainment.

The City of Columbia Plan Commission met Monday night to discuss  a proposal for a special use permit that would allow “ancillary entertainment” at Sunset Overlook “in conjunction with its current restaurant use.” The permit would allow the business to have live music and other entertainment indoors at the property.

Sunset Overlook, located at 11604 Bluff Road, Columbia, temporarily closed this spring due to “substantial decrease in sales” after a judge ruled in February that it was operating in violation of its zoning. It recently resumed business after the Columbia City Council at its June 15 meeting approved zoning code changes for C-1 “neighborhood business” properties that allow outdoor food and drink service. 

Peter and Julie Ingold, owners of Sunset Overlook, applied for the special use permit in February, but the April commission meeting was canceled due to COVID-19 meeting restrictions and the item had been tabled twice since then as the commission sought clarification about procedure requirements for public hearings during virtual meetings.

Columbia Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey began the discussion by presenting an analysis of how the permit would affect the business and surrounding area. He noted the C-1 zoning code does not allow outdoor ancillary entertainment or amplification of sound to be heard outside of a building, so “the requested special use should have little impact” on the area around the business.

Dunakey added that approval of recommendation would include limiting musical performances to 8 p.m. conclusion Sunday-Thursday and 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Also, no temporary signs or banners advertising entertainment could be used without an approved sign permit.

Natalie Lorenz, who has represented residents near Sunset Overlook who have been involved in litigation against the business since November 2018, commented during the public hearing regarding some of Dunakey’s findings.

The first issue Lorenz discussed was Dunakey’s claim there was “no opposition” to the special use permit specifically. She said some of her clients addressed the issue in letters and emails to Columbia aldermen.

Lorenz also objected to Dunakey’s report that not allowing the permit would “cause little, if any, harm to the public, while denying the request would be a hardship to the property owner.” 

Lorenz said the special use permit would be a “bonus” for the business and the language used had “flip-flopped (the intent of the permit) from the way it was presented.”

Lastly, Lorenz commented on the business’ history regarding “violations” of ordinances and other regulations and current lack of compliance with the recently amended C-1 zoning code, including patrons being outside of the business in an area adjacent to residential property after 9:30 p.m. She recommended the commission table voting on the special use permit until there is “proof of compliance.”

“That has been Sunset Overlook’s M.O. They’re given an inch and take a mile… There is already talk of outside events,” Lorenz said, referring to Julie Ingold’s question to the commission about if certain outdoor charity and community events would be allowed at the business in the future.

Dunakey addressed Ingold’s question by saying it was a separate issue from the permit being discussed, which would only allow indoor entertainment. He explained the city’s interpretation of C-1 zoning is not the same as what was described in the February court ruling, so the city “doesn’t have much of a choice” regarding potential outdoor events at the business.  

Dan Lytle, legal representative for Sunset Overlook, also addressed the commission. He said he was “upset by allegations” by Lorenz, noting there was “no evidence of non-compliance” by the business during court proceedings.

The commission voted 8-0 to recommend approval of the permit. Commission member Peter Ingold abstained from discussion and vote as co-owner of the business. The special use permit will be brought to the Columbia City Council for discussion at its July 20 meeting.

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