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The Villages
Thursday, April 18, 2024

Manager of internet cafe makes plea to remain open despite lack of permit

The manager of a Lady Lake internet cafe made a second plea for mercy Tuesday night to Sumter County commissioners at a workshop meeting.

While commissioners agreed that her case is over, they discussed whether ordinance changes are needed.

Kay Patel, manager of the Senior Center of Lady Lake on U.S. Hwy. 27/441, said it was her fault that a renewal was not filed before the cafe’s permit expired in November.

The business was among about a dozen existing cafes allowed to continue operating when the internet cafe ordinance was approved two years ago, although they did not meet stricter standards for new cafes. The senior center does not qualify for a new permit because it is within 1,000 feet of residential property.

Last week, commissioners refused Patel’s request for an extension until she could apply for another permit at a different location. On Tuesday night, she pleaded her case again.

“If we could just keep our jobs until we find a new location,” she said.

The cafe now has been cited for continuing to operate without a permit.

Commissioners are unable to take official action at workshop meetings.

County Chairman Craig Estep said revocation of the cafe’s permit cannot be undone without jeopardizing the county’s authority over other cafes.

But he said a new application would be viewed favorably because the senior center had no violations until this week.

Commissioner Jeffrey Bogue agreed that the senior center case is over, but said the ordinance needs changes to prevent future issues.

“We want to encourage local small businesses,” he said. “Moving forward, I think we want to consider changing the ordinance.”

Under the ordinance approved in early 2022, new internet cafes cannot be located within 1,000 feet of residential property or within 2,500 feet of a school, child care center, day care center, church, public park, playground or library.

Commissioner Andrew Bilardello said those requirements are too steep because 2,500 feet is about a half mile.

But Estep and Commissioner Roberta Ulrich said the restrictions are needed to prevent public safety issues that prompted the ordinance after Lake Panasoffkee residents complained about drugs, loitering and theft at internet cafes.

Several permits have been revoked, but most cafes, which are inspected regularly, continue to operate without building or public safety violations.

County Administrator Bradley Arnold said there are other cafes that continue to operate without permits.

“Not all the bad actors have been eliminated,” he said.

Arnold said new internet cafes can be located in industrial or regional commercial areas such as along Interstate 75. No permits have been issued for new cafes since the ordinance went into effect.


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