Nederland Planning and Zoning recommends no permit for private poker club

Published 12:10 am Thursday, October 17, 2019

NEDERLAND — It appears unlikely that a request to operate a private poker club on Nederland Avenue will gain approval.

Nederland’s Planning and Zoning Commission dealt the potential operation a major roadblock this week, voting 4-0 not to recommend the business be granted a specific use permit to operate.

The planning commission’s decision is not binding, but only a recommendation. The final decision on a specific use permit is scheduled to go before the Nederland City Council Oct. 28.

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Current zoning ordinances in place do not list “private poker club” as a specific use; therefore, any business seeking that business model in Nederland must receive a specific use permit.

According to those with an understanding of Nederland councilmembers’ intentions, they are hesitant to vote in favor of a project that did not secure a planning and zoning recommendation and faces significant backlash from community members.

Scott Watjus, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, said he has been on the commission more than 10 years and never seen so many people show up in opposition to a proposed project.

“These are people from Nederland, and it’s pretty obvious that they don’t want it in their neighborhood,” Watjus said. “It’s hard for us to go and ask for approval for a specific use permit when it doesn’t meet the codes we already have in existence.

“It’s not a positive thing for the bedroom community we have here in Nederland and the people who live here in Nederland. To have that many people come and voice their opinion against this is hard for us to overcome.”

Lane Helveston, owner of Texas Poker Club in Beaumont, wants to operate a similar location at 3503 Nederland Ave., near 35th Street neighborhood residents.

His request triggered the city to send out information on the proposal to property owners within 200 feet.

Nederland Building Official George Wheeler said this is done to give those closest a chance to voice their opinions.

“A lot of weight is given to any property owner within 200 feet,” Wheeler said. “That is why it is set up like that. They had a pretty good turn out (Monday).”

Wheeler was referring to a public hearing on the issue at City Hall that saw eight residents speak out against the proposal, with only two people speaking in favor, one of which included the owner.

Similar sentiment was shared a day later in front of the Planning and Zoning Commission, where residents attending spoke against the proposal and those who spoke for it were tied to the operation.

Helveston did take the opportunity to say those against the poker club who complain about potential noise are off base.

“To put things into perspective, the argument of noise by car-door shutting is frivolous, ludicrous,” he said. “To stop progression and progress based on subjective, non-objective (arguments) is not what this country was founded on. I don’t see how that is even a discussion.”

Helveston did not receive all bad news this week as Planning and Zoning Commissioner Chad Womack said he thought the operation could possibly gain needed support in Nederland if it located away from neighborhood houses.

Womack said he has a location on Nederland Avenue in mind and would “run it by” the property owner and get back to Helveston.

“We will talk to you,” Womack said. “We’ll try to find you a place.”

Although he voted against recommendation, Womack said he is not against a poker room in theory.