On Tuesday, the Pittsylvania County Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend a public hearing at its next meeting regarding a change in the zoning ordinance that would require a special-use permit for all indoor recreation facilities.
While Danville is embroiled in a wave of special-use permit applications and cases before its board of zoning appeals regarding skilled gaming machines — games that require some level of skill where money can be earned — county staff have emphasized that the type of game is irrelevant.
“We’re not going to look at the type of gaming,” said Karen Hayes, county deputy director of community development.
According to current zoning ordinances, businesses in the county can operate skilled gaming machines without a special-use permit under the B-2 designation, an umbrella district “for general business and commercial enterprise whereby the public shall require direct and frequent access, but which is not characterized by constant heavy trucking.”
Under the B-1 district, which is more limited, applicants would need a special-use permit. The change in law would make it so that any amusement center, arcade or game room, regardless of which designation the business falls under, would need one.
So the proposed change in ordinances would require that businesses in either classification get a special-use permit for any indoor recreation, regardless of whether it is a skilled game, a traditional arcade game or something else, with the goal being to ensure that the facility is up to United States Building Codes and local codes zoning codes, Hayes said.
There is at least one skilled-gaming machine facility already operational in the county.
Double Dragons, a facility with 25 games that resides in Ringgold — slightly a mile outside of the city limits — opened in December. As it stands, this is the only county business that has reported skilled-gaming machines to the county’s zoning office.
“I’m sure there’s more out there that we are not aware of,” Hayes said.
In Danville, an anonymous tip about skilled gaming machines set up in convenience stores set off an investigation that has led to dozens of applications bouncing back and forth between the planning commission and City Council over the last two months as officials attempt to define indoor recreation and determine the proper zoning requirements — including certificate of occupancy and parking requirements.
Despite notices and public hearings, at least one convenience store in the city have continued operating the games anyway.
Former Assistant County Administrator Greg Sides, who recently retired, told the Register & Bee in December that county staff have not been watching the city all that closely in this matter.
“Quite frankly, the actions in Danville haven’t been a big factor in our decisions in how to proceed,” he said.
The legality of skilled games, which have flooded the state over the past year and been placed under scrutiny by many localities, is still in question. State leaders have even floated the possibility of banning what they are calling “gray machines,” because they fall into a gray area of the law.
The legality is an area that both Pittsylvania County and Danville are leaving for others to decide.
“The County takes no position on [the games’] legality,” County Attorney Vaden Hunt said in a written statement to Double Dragons owner Michelle Adkins. “Any operators of such games in the County do so at their own risk.”
Mike Henderson, code official for the county, said that under current code, neither the presence of or quantity of skilled gaming machines has an impact on the maximum occupancy. The square footage of a building determines the certificate of occupancy, which determines the parking requirements.
Hayes said that regardless of what happens, Double Dragons would be grandfathered in, and therefore not have to apply for a special-use permit, but would need to continue to follow the building and zoning codes.
At the planning commission’s March meeting, they will vote on whether or not to recommend the ordinance change to the board of supervisors, which would have the final say.
The board also voted unanimously to renominate Richard Motley from the Chatham-Blairs district as chairman of the planning commission, as well as elect H.F. Haymore of the Westover District as vice chairman.