Hancock County

City rejects plan for cafe by day, lounge by night in Depot District

The Bay St. Louis Planning and Zoning Commission denied a businessman a special permit for a new restaurant and lounge in the Depot District on Tuesday.
The Bay St. Louis Planning and Zoning Commission denied a businessman a special permit for a new restaurant and lounge in the Depot District on Tuesday. jfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

The City Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday denied a special-exceptions permit to a businessman wanting to establish a Cajun restaurant and jazz lounge in the Depot District, citing the ongoing problems of loud music and litter coming from other venues in the area.

Billy Conner and his executive chef, Troy Weatherford, hoped to convince the zoning commissioners their new establishment would attract a new kind of clientele to the area — more sophisticated, quieter and less unruly than the current crowd.

In recent months, the City Council has looked for ways to crack down on the Depot District, which has become the target of public-nuisance complaints. Primary concerns cited by residents are loud music, public drunkenness, fights and litter.

At Tuesday’s meeting, described for the commissioners his vision of a cafe serving authentic Cajun cuisine by day and a lounge by night featuring live jazz, blues and zydeco music and standup comics.

“We don’t want to be loud,” Conner said. “We don’t want to cause problems.”

Weatherford said the crowd they intend to target could help the area transition into a nicer and more professional social scene.

Their floor plans called for walls with three layers of insulation, inch-thick drywall and a layer of brick to contain any music and noise inside the building, Weatherford said.

Conner’s plan may have sounded good to some, but the room full of residents seemed hesitant to trust him.

“What happens when he has to change his business strategy and go all night?” one resident said, alluding to other venues there that never intended to attract the crowds they have now. “The city of Bay St. Louis is now ‘Bar St. Louis.’ ”

Commissioner Anthony Pace told Conner and Weatherford they would have to first win over the room full of residents before the commission would grant a permit for a new bar in the Depot District.

“If you’re going to come in here with a room full of opposition, you have to come in better prepared,” Pace said. “You’re asking everyone here to trust you on it.”

Pace suggested the businessmen start off with just a restaurant and demonstrate how clean and quiet their customers are before asking to open it up as a night lounge.

The zoning laws already allow for a daytime restaurant. The special permit is needed only for a nighttime lounge with live music.

Pace told the men they’d fare much better if they came back in six months or a year with documentation residents can see and trust, such as sales figures on food-versus-alcohol revenue and a record of no noise or litter complaints.

“Make it worth it,” Pace said. “Make it worth it to the town. It’s the people in the community — you have to change their minds. Taking it on faith is just not going to be enough.”

After the meeting, the men said they are unsure whether they will continue with plans to open the daytime-only restaurant or take their business elsewhere.

“We have other options,” Conner said. “We’ll see what we can work with.”